Credit: Shutterstock To slow climate change, humanity has two main options: reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly or find ways to remove them from the atmosphere. On the latter, storing carbon in soil—or carbon farming—is often touted as a promising way to offset emissions from other sources such as energy generation, industry and transport. The Morrison government’s Technology Investment Roadmap , now open for public comment, identifies soil carbon as a potential way to reduce emissions from agriculture and to offset other emissions. In particular, it points to so-called "biochar"— plant material transformed into carbon-rich charcoal then applied to soil. But the government’s plan contains misconceptions about both biochar, and the general effectiveness of soil carbon as an emissions reduction strategy. What is biochar? Through photosynthesis, plants turn carbon dioxide (CO₂) into organic material known as biomass. When that biomass decomposes in soil, CO₂ is produced and mostly ends up in the atmosphere. This is a natural process. But if we can intervene by using technology to keep carbon in the soil rather than in the atmosphere, in theory that will help mitigate climate change. That’s where biochar comes in. Making biochar involves heating waste organic materials in a reduced-oxygen […]

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