Richard Branson is widely known as one of the worlds most innovative, successful and wealthy entrepreneurs. Branson is also a philanthropist who understands the importance in protecting our planet and conducting business in an environmentally responsible way. The drive to leave a better earth for those after us is what inspired Branson to start the Virgin Earth Challenge in 2011, a competition where entrepreneurs are tasked with the challenge of developing technology that can reduce greenhouse gases, or in other ways positively impact the environment.
Branson and co-judge Al Gore narrowed down the 10,000 applicants to 11, one of which is a start-up out of Berwyn called Biochar. Biochar has so far impressed the judges, but careful consideration is taken because a $25M reward may be given to the winner (or winners). What Biochar developed may be one of the most important recent discoveries for global agriculture, especially during droughts and heat waves brought on by climate change.
Company ambassador Bob Cirino explains that they have developed a kind of charcoal that can “increase the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients” and “lasts for centuries”. Essentially, Biochar takes wood trash, and burns it at high temperatures in a closed system, so the carbon doesn’t turn into smoke, but rather stays as charcoal. When added to the soil, it enriches it, and allows the soil to retain water and nutrients at far greater levels than without the charcoal mixture.
Biochar is being tested in real world applications, and they are finding that using their substance to enhance the soil, means watering the crops with 30% less water. In nations gripped with drought and water crisis, innovative developments like this can literally be a life saver. Whether or not they win the $25M, this company is doing something great that will have unprecedented implications in the agricultural industry, and will most certainly save lives.