Biochar revolution

Paul Taylor with his book and some homemade biochar.
Paul Taylor with his book and some homemade biochar.

Dr Paul Taylor is an astrophysicist who has worked at Harvard, NASA and MIT. In the early 1970s he was working at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in the USA alongside people who were doing early modelling on climate change.

These days he isn't looking at the stars but at the ground and how we can sequester carbon and increase soil fertility using biochar, a type of charcoal produced by the conversion of biomass under oxygen-limited conditions in a reactor.

Dr Taylor has just released a book called The Biochar Revolution, which he describes as a reference book for anyone interested in biochar and concerned about environmental issues.

The foreword has been written by Dr Tim Flannery, who says "biochar may represent the single most important initiative for humanity's environmental and agricultural future."

Dr Taylor said he first became interested in biochar after seeing a BBC documentary called The Secrets of El Dorado and the Magic of Terra Preta.

"It was about how the Spanish came down the Amazon and saw all these cities and roads, but later explorers didn't believe it was possible to have cities in the jungle... In the last 50 years scientists have shown there was a population there practising agriculture and increasing the fertility of soil," Dr Taylor said.

His first project was with local biochar pioneer Geoff Moxham, who was tragically killed last year near his home at Terania Creek.

"It was while working with Geoff that I became determined to write a book and I really am channelling Geoff's enthusiasm," Dr Taylor said.

As well as sequestering carbon and improving soil fertility, the pyrolysis process also creates energy.

"For hundreds of years we've been creating energy through combustion, either of coal or gas, but pyrolysis is a whole different process... We're creating energy that is carbon negative, unlike any other process, and there are a whole lot of benefits to soil and food production. It can be applied from a very small scale to a small farm scale all the way up to a commercial scale."

Dr Taylor is one of several guest speakers at a biochar education camp at Eagle Farm at Tyagarah from April 30 to May 4. He says they are hoping to attract everyone from gardeners to farmers to local councils and waste management people. There is a biochar pyrolyser at Eagle Farm and one of the things they are hoping to do is to show macadamia producers how they can convert their shells into biochar.

"There are a lot of biochar enthusiasts in the area and this will definitely be a hands-on experience. We will be making small scale devices and people will get their hands on the equipment," he said.

The cost of the workshop is $440 for five days or $350 if you book before April 17. There are also prices for two days or one day. Email potaylor@ for more information or phone 6679 5259.

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