Scientist pushes biochar benefits

Mt Warning resident and retired astrophysicist Dr Paul Taylor with his book on the benefits of biochar.
Mt Warning resident and retired astrophysicist Dr Paul Taylor with his book on the benefits of biochar. John Gass

A RETIRED Mt Warning astrophysicist wants the region to become a world showcase for biochar and its remarkable properties.

Dr Paul Taylor wants to help transform agriculture and the environment through local biochar workshops.

“People often give me a blank stare when I mention biochar, but it is simply charcoal that is intended to go in the soil where it has some amazing benefits for soil and the environment,” Dr Taylor said.

“Research has shown a 300% increase in crop yield and 800% decrease in fertiliser use.”

Dr Taylor graduated from the University of NSW with the university medal, obtained his PhD at the University of Colorado and worked at Havard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and MIT.

“I’ve always been concerned with the environment here on earth so when I came to the Northern Rivers I said this could be a really sustainable area; this could be a showcase to the world,” he said.

“So I started doing climate change workshops and soon realised if we were really going to avoid a climate catastrophe we needed not only to cut emissions, but also restore the soil so that it can absorb emissions from the atmosphere and bring excess carbon back to earth.

“And biochar holds tremendous possibilities in being able to do that.”

Late last year Dr Taylor published The Biochar Revolution, a guide for anyone interested in biochar or concerned about environmental issues.

“We emphasise sustainable biochar,” Dr Taylor said. “This is not about buying huge plantations or taking over natural forests, this is about using waste biomass and turning it into viable end products which then help the soil, help our food productivity, help with the climate problem and bring environmental, social and economic benefits,” he said.

The Biochar Revolution has contributions from 18 experts, including Stotts Creek farmer Robert Quirk.

“Robert Quick is another man whose life was changed in a way by getting involved with biochar,” Dr Taylor said.

“He’s been involved with biochar trials on his cane farm.

“The book tells some inspirational stories by many people whose life was changed.”

Dr Taylor will host a biochar workshop on April 3 and a five-day interactive biochar bootcamp from April 30-May 4.

“The boot camp will be a real hands-on thing where people can come and learn from people from the USA,” Dr Taylor said.

“And they really will get their hands on tin snips and make the devices that make biochar.

“You don’t want to make biochar the traditional way you make charcoal, because making it would cause a lot of pollution.

“Our method is still simple; you can make it in your backyard.”

Inquiries to Dr Taylor on 02 6679 5259 or

What is it?

IN the simplest terms, biochar is charcoal produced for mixing into soil. Yes, charcoal – the carbon-rich material made from heating wood or other plant material in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere. As a soil additive, biochar offers numerous potential benefits. Biochar increases the capacity for soil to hold nutrients, enhances crop yields, and captures and stores carbon for the long term.

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