What is Biochar?

First discovered by local farmers over 2,000 years ago in the Amazon Basin, biochar is an ancient all-natural soil amendment made from heated compostable material. Its deep pores retain water and nutrients and encourage beneficial microbial growth. In fact, just 1 gram of biochar contains more surface area in its pores than an entire football field—lots of room to store the kinds of things plants love.

Not only that, but scientists have since discovered that this process also removes CO2 from the atmosphere. For every ton produced, 3-4 tons of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere. This is because the materials used to produce biochar are often saved from going to a landfill, which reduces the waste and greenhouse gas emissions that would have been released into the environment. Biochar is produced in an oxygen-free environment, allowing the carbon from this organic material to condense and stabilize, transforming what would have been CO2 escaping into the atmosphere into a beneficial soil amendment. This process helps to literally reverse climate change.

Financially, biochar is extremely beneficial because biowaste is abundant and inexpensive (or free!). Unlike expensive synthetic fertilizers designed in a lab, biochar can be produced from waste. Because of this, biochar can be widely used by almost any and everyone. One of the biggest limitations in expanding biochar use is awareness and education. Although more studies are being done and as a product, it is becoming more popular, most gardeners and farmers have never heard of it.

How is it made?

Visually, biochar looks like charcoal, and it’s produced very similarly as well. They’re both made through a process called pyrolysis, in which the chemical compounds in organic material are thermally composed into gas, oil, and solid parts. For certain biomass, the bio-oil produced can be turned into a renewable fuel source that rivals petroleum. The solid, otherwise known as biochar, can be turned around and put back in the earth. 

Despite the similarities in production, charcoal is typically used as a fuel or heat source for cooking, whereas biochar is used as a soil amendment. Additionally, charcoal is produced with wood, but biochar can be produced from other biomass. Despite being so similar, charcoal and biochar are not interchangeable, as many biochar products tend to be further “activated.” These are more effective in enriching the soil and will yield better results.

Is it safe to use on everything?

Yes! As previously mentioned, one of the most significant benefits of biochar use is how it retains water which can benefit any plant. Beyond hydration, healthier root growth can also be achieved due to the increased nutrient retention as well as soil microbial activity and diversity. This allows plants to grow healthier, all while using less water.

How do I get started?

Getting started with biochar has never been easier. That’s where we at Willow come in. Produced from pine wood waste that would otherwise go to a landfill, Willow Biochar is the most sustainable soil product for your houseplants and home gardens. You can mix it in with any soil, or add it to the base of any existing plant and see the results almost immediately. Try a bag today!