Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review - The Biochar Solution

I finished reading The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change by Albert Bates a couple of months ago. It has been sitting on a shelf since then waiting for me to pick it back up to write this review. I suspect the reason I put off doing so for so long is that I was so disappointed with the book. It isn't that it was bad, but just that I was hoping for a very different focus for the book.

Several months ago I came across a mention of using biochar as a soil amendment. I was immediately interested in this, especially since I have so much dead wood that could be burned to make biochar. I tried to find a good source of information on the topic, but found information to be limited. I did find a Mother Earth News article from February/March 2009, which did provide some information, but not as much as I was looking for. I read reviews of a few books and found that The Biochar Solution was the one that was most recommended. You can probably imagine how thrilled I was, then, when I found out the author, Albert Bates, was going to be leading a workshop on the topic a the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs. Attending this workshop was my top priority of the fair, and I very much enjoyed it. After hearing the author speak I was convinced that his book would be a valuable resource, so picked up a copy at the fair.

My interest in biochar is almost entirely related to its ability to aid in building better soil. I'm already convinced that it is worth trying, so was looking for some practical information on producing and applying biochar. Unfortunately, however, the book is focused almost entirely on convincing the reader of the benefits of biochar, with little to no real practical information for those of us who are already convinced.

The first several chapters of the book provide a history lesson on the terra preta soils of the Amazon. I found this information to be very interesting, yet it wasn't the reason I bought the book. After the history lesson much of the book was focused on explaining how biochar sequesters carbon, which in turn reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Again, interesting information, but not what I was looking for. Another substantial part of the book is focused on the profitability of large scale biochar production. This is actually one, although not the only, of the things that led me to do write the Profit Focused Environmentalism post. If biochar can have such a positive impact for our planet, why must it also be profitable? Shouldn't improving the soil, reducing greenhouse gases, and also providing an alternative source of heat be more than enough reason to invest in the process?

Ultimately I am glad that I read the book, as I did learn a few things that I did not previously know. However, I am still left with a desire to find a good source of practical information on the topic. I'm no more prepared to make biochar and apply it to my garden now than I was before picking up the book.


  1. That book has been on my to-read list for years, but I keep hearing reviews like yours and deciding to read something else first. If you haven't poked around our blog enough to find it yet, you might enjoy this series of videos from a workshop we attended --- (and the posts linked to at the bottom of that one).

    And if you find a better biochar book, I hope you'll post about it. The only one I've read is The Biochar Debate, which didn't have the hands-on information I was looking for.

    1. I haven't made it to that post in your blog yet. I will certainly check that out.

      I will definitely do a review if I find another book on the topic that has the type of info I'm looking for.

  2. I've been following biochar sources on the web for a couple of years, and put together a collections of links at:

    Many ideas and approaches have been spreading worldwide, mostly on a small scale. Good luck with your research!

    1. Thanks Brian. I will certainly check that out.

  3. I agree that Albert's book is the best general textspace on the subject. I assisted him with some editing and content.

    If you would like to see my latest summation of the industry please review my Sonoma presentation below.
    I focus on the cutting-edge Pyro/catalytic Syn-gas two tank ready fuel technology and the new applications of char as a feed supplement. Closing the nutrient loop and eliminating manure odor with additional enteric health benefits for livestock on European farms.

    Erich J. Knight
    Shenandoah Gardens

    Opening Speaker for the 2012 USBI Biochar Conference;
    2012 US Biochar Conference | Building Soil - Redirecting Carbon