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Many Uses for Biochar and Pyrolysates

Good for agriculture

Biochar has been best known for its agricultural benefits when added to soil. The heat of the pyrolysis process kills any remaining pathogens, removes any odor, and breaks down residual pharmaceuticals and chemicals.  Because the black, crispy material is so full of microscopic pores, it has a mind-bogglingly high surface area, which make biochar particles great at holding water, and serving as habitats for beneficial soil microbes.  Biochar improves plant growth, and results are even better when biochar is mixed with compost or fertilizers. It can rehabilitate land damaged from farming or overgrazing Some of it could be used by the Parks Department for application to City parks, lawns and street tree plantings.  Biochar is clearly less offensive than sewage waste, but there still isn’t much of market for it yet.

Water Filtration

Biochar can be treated to become activated carbon, which is widely used for filtering solids out of water, and has many industrial applications.  There’s absorption, the chemical process by which fluids are pulled into a solid material.  Similar to it is the process of adsorption, in which substances stick to the surface of the adsorbent. Activated carbon is one of the most powerful adsorbtive substances known.  It’s often made from coal.NYC DEP could use some in its own water filtration systems.How much activated carbon is used in the NYC metro area each year, what is the current production cost, and what would be the cost of activated carbon made from NYC sewage waste?

New Uses

Richard Heinberg summarizes
the new uses for biochar in his review of "Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth", written by Albert Bates & Kathleen Draper.   Adding biochar into steel, concrete, polymers and composites improves their structural characteristics – and the buildings, roads, bridges and ports made from them. Some of these new uses may overlap with needs and markets within the NYC metro area.

In many industries, products and processes can be made more energy efficient, less polluting and more profitable with the addition of biochar, also storing carbon.

"These include:


  • Concrete: If biochar is substituted for silicate, the result is lightweight and insulating, fast-setting, and as strong and as monolithic as marble or granite. And there is potential for massive carbon sequestration. Asphalt incorporating biochar offers similar opportunities.

  • Plastics: Carbon nanotubes and graphene can greatly improve the material performance of polymers, but at high cost. Parolysates could do essentially the same job much cheaper, leading to a new generation of plastics with increased longevity and performance—while, again, sequestering carbon.

  • Supercapacitors (for energy storage): these are lighter, faster charging, and longer lasting than chemical batteries. Graphene and activated carbon are already used in capacitors but biochar would be a cheaper option.

  • Paper products: “Chardboard,” a blend of biochar and paper pulp, offers improved performance for food packaging and for blocking harmful electromagnetic radiation.

  • Carbon black: This is a substance used in a wide array of products, from tires and fan belts to inks, currently made from a highly polluting form of natural gas. Substituting parolysates would make for longer-lasting tires, etc., with improved performance—while again helping solve climate change rather than contributing to it.

  • Filters: Fighting water and air pollution requires filtration. As it happens, biochar and parolysates are great at removing particulates from air, and heavy metals and radionuclides from water."

Many products now made from oil and natural gas can be made instead, and often better, with biochar or parolysates. 

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