"How Chocolate Could Counter Climate Change"

A lesson in headline hyperbole.

Cocoa bean shell husks
Photo by Rodrigo Flores on Unsplash

Different versions of the article below have appeared in a few international newspapers over the past week.

It’s actually a cool story about a chocolate factory in Hamburg, Germany that’s turning cocoa shell husks into biochar: “an amazing black powder with the potential to counter climate change."

Biochar is produced by heating the cocoa husks in an oxygen-free room to 600 degrees Celsius and is considered valuable because it locks in greenhouse gases and can be used as a fertilizer or as an ingredient in the production of "green" concrete.

Sounds pretty awesome, right? And it is!

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), biochar could potentially be used to capture 2.6 billion of the 40 billion tonnes of CO2 currently produced by humanity each year.

However, as the article notes, scaling biochar production up to the point envisioned by IPCC and ensuring it stores more carbon than it produces remains a challenge. Apparently not all soils are well suited for biochar, and it works better in tropical climates. And if you have to factor transportation into the equation, the carbon benefits will be lost. Not to mention the fact that it’s expensive for farmers to buy.

(With those being the main arguments of the article, I wonder if the way to scale up this technology most effectively is to build it in tropical regions where the cocoa beans are grown and the biochar will have the greatest impact? Seems like the most circular way to do it.)

So while it is very cool that this chocolate factory in Hamburg is producing biochar that local farmers are using to enrich their soil, I feel that positioning this as “chocolate countering climate change” may be just a wee bit overblown.

Doesn’t make chocolate any less delicious, though.

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