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Centre develops charcoal to store carbon

Scientists are developing a type of charcoal that can be used to store carbon instead of being burned for fuel.

Hands holding a seedling in soil

Use of the material could potentially help to alleviate climate change.

Recycling garden waste

Researchers at the UK Biochar Research Centre - recently launched at the School of GeoSciences - will produce the charcoal from materials such as dead trees, food waste, and crop residues.

These materials would otherwise produce CO2 and methane as they decayed.

Biochar is produced by decomposing waste using heat in a low oxygen environment, without burning. This produces dark grey grains of carbon.

Scientists say biochar could lock carbon away for hundreds or even thousands of years, preventing the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Improving soil

Unlike ordinary charcoal, it is not intended for use as fuel. The charcoal is intended to be added to soil, where it can potentially improve crop yields.

Its use by farmers, foresters and local governments could help reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions.

It could also save money by reducing the need for plant fertilisers.

Biochar offers an achievable, affordable method of storing carbon for hundreds, if not thousands, of years – we have to adopt technologies such as this to reduce carbon emissions in the long term.

Dr Simon ShackleyLecturer in Biochar Social Science