Senate’s New “WECHAR” Bill Makes Biochar a National Issue
The diplomats and dignitiaries have all left Pittsburgh and the G20 Summit will soon join the ranks of other important summits on climate change and renewable energy that have come and gone.
While it will be years until we learn whether the pledges and promises of the G20 Summit will ever really have an impact on pollution and a dying fossil fuel industry, a U.S. Senator from Nevada recently introduced legislation that has the potential to develop the technology we need to start digging out of this vicious cycle.
According to an article published by the International Biochar Initiative (IBI):
“On Thursday, September 24, 2009, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and four cosponsors (Senators Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico), introduced the “Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration (WECHAR) Act of 2009.” The bill establishes a loan guarantee program to develop biochar technology, initiates a program of biochar landscape restoration projects on public land, and authorizes a competitive grant program to fund research on biochar characteristics, impacts and economics.”
Recently the agriculturally-inclined have begun to re-examine an ancient soil amendment called Terra Preta (“dark earth” in Portuguese), now referred to as BioChar or agri-char.
If you’ve never heard of biochar before, here are some informative details from the IBI:
- Biochar is a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.
- Biochar can be an important tool to increase sustainable food production in areas with severely depleted soils, scarce organic resources, and inadequate water and chemical fertilizer supplies.
- Oils and gases co-produced with biochar, in well-designed pyrolysis or gasification equipment, can be used as fuel, providing clean, renewable energy. When the biochar is buried in the ground as a soil amendment, the system can become “carbon negative.”
The bill proposed by Senator Reid is focused mostly on the water conservation and landscape restoration that could be achieved in Nevada, where hundreds of acres and millions of gallons of water are being wasted in areas where invasive plant and weed species have devastated the soil.
However, the implications of this legislation could be significant for other areas of the country that are suffering from depleted soil nutrients and a dwindling water supply.
“By using Western invasive weeds and dangerous fuel loads as feedstock for biochar production, the bill seeks to match undesirable material on the landscape that would otherwise be expensive to eliminate with a process that requires a large source of woody material to make valuable products and provide critical ecosystem services like carbon sequestration” (IBI).
Image Credit: www.biochar.org