New Type of Charcoal Could Solve Excess Nutrient Problem

In *All, Agricultural Systems by Ag is America

Producing charcoal by heating organic material and using it as a crop fertilizer is not a recent phenomenon. However, Kaushlendra Singh, an associate professor at West Virginia University, is attempting to produce a new type of charcoal that traps excess nutrients. The runoff of nutrients is extremely harmful to our nation’s waterways, especially the Chesapeake Bay, as it creates massive algae blooms. These blooms use up all of the dissolved oxygen in the water, forming dead zones where nothing can live.

Singh is planning to use three types of wood, two hard and one soft, to create the charcoal, also known as biochar. Before heating it, Singh infuses the wood with magnesium salts, thereby carbonizing it. The salts will absorb the nutrients and react with them, creating a non-soluble struvite crystal. These crystals will not be washed into waterways; instead, they will remain in the soil for the next crop.

The leaching of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural land is a huge environmental problem, however it also is extremely expensive for U.S. taxpayers. The 2008 Farm Bill allocated $24 billion to address the leaching of excess nutrients and another $57 billion in the 2014 Farm Bill. With Mr. Singh on the forefront of a possible resolution, His discovery could save taxpayers millions in just a few years.

To learn more about this research from the West Virginia University, read more here.

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