Atmosphere

Feel The Burn

How biochar can help save the world from itself.

By
March 2011

When scientist Jim Fournier first heard about biochar at an ecological conference about seven years ago, he knew it was gold. The process of creating the coal-like material reportedly does what no other “green” technology can: sequesters harmful carbon that would otherwise be released from biowaste such as felled trees, and prevents it from escaping—essentially reducing the net output of carbon into the atmosphere. “Biochar,” Fournier says, “is one of the only tools to do this.” ¶ In 2009, Fournier, a former MIT student, founded Golden’s Biochar Engineering Corporation (BEC) to manufacture the technology that produces biochar. The concept has garnered support from prominent scientists and politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who introduced legislation in late 2009 that provides loan guarantees for biochar production. But the process hasn’t attracted widespread attention or funding, so public policy has stalled, and BEC has yet to see a profit. “I’m willing to be involved in founding an industry where there are not mature markets yet,” Fournier says. “Because in the long run, there’s a very good reason to do it.”