Bio-char Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems – A Review

  • Johannes LehmannEmail author
  • John Gaunt
  • Marco Rondon


The application of bio-char (charcoal or biomass-derived black carbon (C)) to soil is proposed as a novel approach to establish a significant, long-term, sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide in terrestrial ecosystems. Apart from positive effects in both reducing emissions and increasing the sequestration of greenhouse gases, the production of bio-char and its application to soil will deliver immediate benefits through improved soil fertility and increased crop production. Conversion of biomass C to bio-char C leads to sequestration of about 50% of the initial C compared to the low amounts retained after burning (3%) and biological decomposition (< 10–20% after 5–10 years), therefore yielding more stable soil C than burning or direct land application of biomass. This efficiency of C conversion of biomass to bio-char is highly dependent on the type of feedstock, but is not significantly affected by the pyrolysis temperature (within 350–500 C common for pyrolysis). Existing slash-and-burn systems cause significant degradation of soil and release of greenhouse gases and opportunies may exist to enhance this system by conversion to slash-and-char systems. Our global analysis revealed that up to 12% of the total anthropogenic C emissions by land use change (0.21 Pg C) can be off-set annually in soil, if slash-and-burn is replaced by slash-and-char. Agricultural and forestry wastes such as forest residues, mill residues, field crop residues, or urban wastes add a conservatively estimated 0.16 Pg C yr−1. Biofuel production using modern biomass can produce a bio-char by-product through pyrolysis which results in 30.6 kg C sequestration for each GJ of energy produced. Using published projections of the use of renewable fuels in the year 2100, bio-char sequestration could amount to 5.5–9.5 Pg C yr−1 if this demand for energy was met through pyrolysis, which would exceed current emissions from fossil fuels (5.4 Pg C yr−1). Bio-char soil management systems can deliver tradable C emissions reduction, and C sequestered is easily accountable, and verifiable.


black carbon carbon sequestration charcoal emissions trading global warming potential greenhouse gas emissions soils terra preta de indio 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Crop and Soil SciencesCollege of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.GY Associates Ltd.HarpendenUK
  3. 3.Climate Change ProgramCentro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT)CaliColombia

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