Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What is biochar? Is it the same as charcoal?

Carbonised biomass; charcoal, activated carbon, biocoal and biochar can all be described as a solid carbon-rich residue that remain from the heating of biomass in partial or complete absence of oxygen.

  • Charcoal refers to a traditional fuel produced from woody biomass, and still widely used.
  • Activated carbons, instead, can be derived from any biomass or even fossil coal via further activation treatments, and are mainly used for filtering or sorption applications.
  • Biochar, the newest term, was initially differentiated from charcoal stressing the fact that biochar is intended for amendment to agricultural soils and carbon sequestration.

With the expansion of the biochar research field, the definition of biochar is however no longer limited to soil applications. In some acceptations, the definition even includes biochar use for energy – sometimes called biocoal – in industrial processes or products that may be later incinerated such as activated biochar filters or electronic components.

Finally, existing voluntary certificates of biochar include in their definitions specific requirements on production conditions and quality e.g. approved biomass types, minimum carbon content, treatment temperature, or pollutant contents.

All these materials have different properties. Usually, charcoal is produced in a way that maximises its yield (around 35% of the initial biomass weight), and charcoal has a lower carbon content and a higher hydrogen content than biochar produced at higher temperatures (and with a lower yield).

  • More about this in the webinar from
  • You can also check our glossary

2. What is the global potential for biochar carbon sequestration?

There are few studies that estimated the global potential of biochar carbon sequestration. The range they provide is 3 - 10 GtCO2 per year, with varying assumptions on biomass feedstocks used. If achieved, this potential is a significant amount for the climate system. However, humanity must also mitigate its current 50 GtCO2-eq emitted annually.

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