Biochar versus other forms of carbon


Carbon is one of the most commonly found elements in nature, and is essential to life. Carbon can come in a whole range of different forms, including biochar, activated carbon, charcoal, graphite and even diamond. It is crazy to think about how one element can have so many different properties and can be used for a whole range of different purposes. Most people know what diamonds are used for, though the difference between biochar, charcoal and activated charcoal can be a little more confusing. Exploring some of the forms of carbon can help you better to understand how useful it can be.

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Burning Charcoal

The differences between biochar, charcoal and activated carbon are small but they can play a huge role in the function of the final product. The differences are all due to slightly different processes during production, and this is done to optimise the final use of the carbon based products.

Charcoal is created by heating biomass (organic material such as wood, leaves or even manure) in limited oxygen. Charcoal is often used as a fuel for cooking, but can be used for any heat generation needs. Charcoal burns very hot, even hotter than the biomass that it started out as, and with very little smoke, making it great as a fuel.

Biochar is very similar to charcoal but has an intended use as a soil amendment or absorber of minerals in the soil, and therefore is produced under more controlled circumstances. The properties of biochar allow it to be a great absorber just like activated carbon, but also allow it to be a great facilitator of ion exchange. This allows it to better hold essential nutrients (such as NH4+) in the soil for plants to utilise. This is due to the large surface area of biochar, and increased charge density on the surface.

Activated carbon shares some common elements with biochar, however it is not great at ion exchange. It is predominantly used for adsorption, making it perfect for filtering harmful organic compounds out of both gas and water.

Essentially, understanding what you want to use the carbon based products for will be the deciding factor as to which one is best for you. Charcoal is best used as a fuel, activated carbon is best used as a means of adsorption, and biochar is best for soil conditioning and livestock feed, but can be used for all.

Being a relatively new product on the market, it is likely you’ve never heard of biochar before. This charcoal substance can be used for a range of different purposes including a soil conditioner or also an additive to animal feed to boost health and growth. The list of uses for biochar are almost endless. To help you understand more about this substance, here are five facts about biochar that you didn’t know.

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