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What does science say about biochar?

What does science say about biochar?

There is a huge amount of scientific research available on biochar's benefits as a soil amendment. 

For this post, we're going to focus on the three main claims you'll hear from us a Common Ground, biochar 1) increase water retention 2) increases nutrient retention and 3) increases microbial activity. 

✅ Biochar increases water retention

Water retention, or water holding capacity, is the measure of your soil's ability to retain moisture.

  • A 2013 study found that biochar application more than doubled the water holding capacity (from 16% to 32.5%) in loamy sand soils that are prevalent in North America.
  • A 2012 study in Iowa found that just a 6% (by soil volume) biochar application increased local water holding capacity by 23% relative to control.
  • In our 2022 product test with PHD Jonathan Montgomery we measured a 30% increase in water holding capacity from a 15% application of biochar. We are currently replicating results to publish.

Note that these studies were using naked biochar (not activated) to limit variances. Activating biochar as we do in our products will only further increase the water holding capacity of biochar.

Water retention of typical soil vs. soil with biochar.

✅ Biochar increases nutrient retention

  • A 2019 study found that biochar application increased soil available phosphorus by 45% across a full range of soil conditions and experimental conditions.
  • A 2018 analysis (summary of 208 peer reviewed studies) found that biochar application on average increase N2 fixation by 63% and N update by 9%.
  • In our 2022 product test we completed with PHD Jonathan Montgomery using we measured that biochar decreased leaching of Magnesium and Calcium by up to 60%.

Nutrients are useless for plants without microbes to cycle them into usable forms. The quality soil is directly related to the microbial life it can support.

Nutrient retention of typical soil vs. soil with biochar

✅ Biochar increases microbial activity

  • A 2016 analysis of 80 peer reviewed studies found that biochar application increased soil microbial biomass carbon by 25% on average.
  • A 2017 analysis of 550 papers found that there was a 25% increase in soil microbial biomass nitrogen with the addition of biochar.
  • A 2019 analysis of 417 peer reviewed papers found that on average, biochar application led to a 39% increase in Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) (which is linked with microbial community composition and diversity).

Microbe activity of typical soil vs. soil with biochar.

Activated biochar = better results

Although the above results are impressive, we expect for you to get even better results with our unique biochar activation formula. Scientific studies tend to often use non-activated (naked) biochar to reduce variables inputs, but it's the activation of biochar that gives it so many of it's beneficial properties.

Higher yields that could be potentially realized with activated biochar.

Higher yields?

In many cases higher nutrient and water relation and higher microbial activity will lead to higher yields in vegetable gardens, but there are many factor that will dictate the results at the end of the day (like your soil composition in relation to what you're growing, and the method of activation of your biochar, and the length of time passed) so we stay away from this specific claim for our Pure Biochar product, as the real answer is ultimately "likely, but it depends". 

Our Nutrient Blend product, on the other hand, is a mix of nutrient rich vermicompost and biochar and we are happy to promise higher yields.