Biochar vs Charcoal

Biochar vs Charcoal

Charcoal

Biochar and charcoal are both forms of carbon that are produced from biomass, but they have different properties and uses. Biochar is made from biomass that is heated in a controlled environment, while charcoal is made from biomass that is heated in an uncontrolled environment. This difference in production methods results in different properties for biochar and charcoal.

Properties of Biochar

  • Porosity: Biochar is more porous than charcoal, which means that it has more tiny holes or spaces in it. This makes biochar better at storing water and nutrients, and it also makes it a better habitat for beneficial soil microbes.
    Biochar porosity
  • Surface area: Biochar has a higher surface area than charcoal, which means that there is more surface area for water and nutrients to bind to. This makes biochar more effective at storing water and nutrients.
    Biochar surface area
  • Water retention: Biochar is better at storing water than charcoal. This is because the porous structure of biochar allows it to hold onto water molecules.
  • Nutrient retention: Biochar is also better at storing nutrients than charcoal. This is because the porous structure of biochar allows it to bind to nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Microbial habitat: Biochar is a better habitat for beneficial soil microbes than charcoal. This is because the porous structure of biochar provides a place for microbes to live and reproduce.

Properties of Charcoal

  • Porosity: Charcoal is less porous than biochar, which means that it has fewer tiny holes or spaces in it. This makes charcoal not as good at storing water and nutrients.
  • Surface area: Charcoal has a lower surface area than biochar, which means that there is less surface area for water and nutrients to bind to. This makes charcoal not as effective at storing water and nutrients.
  • Water retention: Charcoal is not as good at storing water as biochar. This is because the less porous structure of charcoal does not allow it to hold onto water molecules as well.
  • Nutrient retention: Charcoal is also not as good at storing nutrients as biochar. This is because the less porous structure of charcoal does not allow it to bind to nutrients as well.
  • Microbial habitat: Charcoal is not as good a habitat for beneficial soil microbes as biochar. This is because the less porous structure of charcoal does not provide as much space for microbes to live and reproduce.

Uses of Biochar

  • Improving soil health: Biochar can improve soil health by increasing water retention, nutrient retention, and microbial activity. This can lead to better plant growth and crop yields.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions: Biochar can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon in the soil. This can help to mitigate climate change.
  • Filtering water: Biochar can be used to filter water by removing pollutants, such as bacteria and heavy metals.

Uses of Charcoal

  • Fuel: Charcoal is a good fuel that can be used for cooking, smoking food, and making activated carbon.
  • Activated carbon: Activated carbon is a type of charcoal that has been processed to make it very porous. It is used in a variety of applications, such as water filtration and air purification.

Which is better?

The best choice for you will depend on your specific needs and goals. If you are looking for a material to improve soil health, biochar is the better choice. If you are looking for a fuel, charcoal is the better choice. If you are looking for a material to filter water, either biochar or charcoal can be used.

If you are unsure which is the best choice for you, it is best to talk to us about your options,

Conclusion

Biochar and charcoal are both forms of carbon that have different properties and uses. Biochar is better at storing water and nutrients, and it is also a better habitat for beneficial soil microbes. Charcoal is a better fuel, and it can also be used to make activated carbon. The best choice for you will depend on your specific needs and goals.


References:

  • Lehmann, J., & Joseph, S. (2015). Biochar for environmental management: Science, technology and implementation. Earthscan.
    Lehmann and Joseph (2015) book
  • Six, J., Lehmann, J., Joseph, S., & O'Neill, B. C. (2006). Biochar, soil fertility, and global change: A review. Advances in Agronomy, 97, 1-46.
    Six et al. (2006) paper

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between biochar and charcoal:

Feature Biochar Charcoal
Production method Controlled pyrolysis Uncontrolled pyrolysis
Porosity More porous Less porous
Surface area Higher surface area Lower surface area
Water retention Better at storing water Worse at storing water
Nutrient retention Better at storing nutrients Worse at storing nutrients
Microbial habitat Better habitat for beneficial soil microbes Worse habitat for beneficial soil microbes
Fuel Not as good a fuel Better fuel
Other uses Improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, filtering water Cooking, smoking food, making activated carbon

 

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