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Traditional use of biochar

TitleTraditional use of biochar
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsWiedner, Katja, and Glaser Bruno
Book TitleBiochar for Environmental Management: Science and Technology and Implementation

In recent years, soils rich in pyrogenic carbonaceous material (PCM) have become increasingly the subject of scientific and public interest as biochar application to soil Is a possible way to improve soil properties and sustainable management of natural resources (Glaser et al, 2000; Glaser et al, 2002; Lehmann et al, 2003). The use of biochar as a PCM added to soil has been commonplace in many parts of the world for centuries and even millennia. The aim of this chapter is to synthesize available knowledge and data on the historical use of biochar. Biochar plays a prominent role, leaving behind sustainable fertile back earth-like soils such as the famous Amazonian Dark Earth or Terra Preta de Indio (Glaser et al, 2001). The chapter focuses mainly on the historic use of biochar and identifies its specific role in sustainable agriculture. The term ‘biochar’ is a modern creation often used along with charcoal, pyrogenic C  or black C, but not fully interchangeably or synonymous (Chapter 1). In general, charcoal and biochar are carbonaceous materials (dominated by polycondensed aromatic moieties) produced by the heating of organic material at high temperature (350-1200°C) under low oxygen supply. While charcoal is produced as an energy carrier, e.g. for cooking, heating or metallurgy processes, biochar is produced specifically for application to soil as part of agronomic or environmental management. Table 2.1 gives an overview of literature reviewed in this chapter on historical use of PCM Surprisingly, in most of the studies, it seems that PCM was used intentionally as biochar for soil improvement. For Terra Preta, it is not clarified whether biochar application to soil was intentional or not, however, oil improvement upon biochar application might have been noticed later on, followed by intensification of land use and settlement (Glaser, 2007). Biochar in soils persists against biological and chemical degradation over much longer periods of time than uncharred organic matter (Chapter 10). We discuss historical use of biochar separated according to individual continents and countries or according to different historical epochs.