Agricultural activities and soils release greenhouse gases, and additional emissions occur in the conversion of land from other uses. Unlike natural lands, active management offers the possibility to increase terrestrial stores of carbon in various forms in soil. The potential to sequester carbon as thermally stabilized (charred) biomass using existing organic resource is estimated to be at least 1 Gt yr− 1 and “biochar,” defined by its useful application to soil, is expected to provide a benefit from enduring physical and chemical properties. Studies of charcoal tend to suggest stability in the order of 1000 years in the natural environment, and various analytical techniques inform quantification and an understanding of turnover processes. Other types of biochar, such as those produced under zero-oxygen conditions have been studied less, but costs associated with logistics and opportunity costs from diversion from energy or an active form in soil demand certainty and predictability of the agronomic return, especially until eligibility for carbon credits has been established. The mechanisms of biochar function in soil, which appear to be sensitive to the conditions prevailing during its formation or manufacture, are also affected by the material from which it is produced. Proposed mechanisms and some experimental evidence point to added environmental function in the mitigation of diffuse pollution and emissions of trace gases from soil; precluding the possibility of contaminants accumulating in soil from the incorporation of biochar is important to ensure safety and regulatory compliance.