Can dirt be clean?

John D. Wilson | March 30, 2009 | Clean Transportation, Climate Change

Buried in my backyard is a few hundred pounds of what may be one of the most interesting solutions to global warming: biochar.

And today I see that CNN is reporting on the Georgia facility where I bought my charcoal dirt.

Over the railroad tracks, near Agriculture Drive on the University of Georgia campus, sits a unique machine that may hold one of the solutions to big environmental problems like energy, food production and even global climate change.

“This machine right here is our baby,” said UGA research engineer Brian Bibens, who is one of a handful of researchers around the world working on alternative ways to recycle carbon.

Biben’s specialty is “Biochar,” a highly porous charcoal made from organic waste. The raw material can be any forest, agricultural or animal waste. Some examples are woodchips, corn husks, peanut shells, even chicken manure.


Biochar’s benefit to the planet is that it locks away carbon that might otherwise contribute to global warming. Biochar is charred agriculture or forestry waste that is buried in topsoil, enhancing soil fertility. Biochar can be made as a byproduct of a bioenergy process, that’s why this black dirt may be a “clean energy” solution.

For my family, its most important benefit may be that it compensates for my lack of talent and attention to our backyard garden. If last year is any indication, biochar is a yummy success.

(And for the record, I don’t intend to request any climate allowances for my trouble. Even though it is a good idea to offer climate credits for large scale application of biochar.)

John D. Wilson
For more than a decade, John has directed SACE’s research activities and led SACE’s utility reform campaigns. He often represents SACE in formal or informal stakeholder engagement with utilities, and…
My Profile