Biochar

Charmaker

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What is Biochar?

Biochar is a form of charcoal produced from sustainable sources in an energy efficient way and used for any purpose that does not result in the immediate release of carbon back into the atmosphere.

The biochar is produced from biomass by a process called pyrolysis. The biomass is heated to very high temperatures in the absence of oxygen leading to the formation of carbon residues or charcoal.

When biochar is applied to the soil it can last for thousands of years, acting as a stable carbon store capturing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it in a solid form. It also has received a lot of attention due to its potential ability to increase plant growth and ultimately crop yield.

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 What are its Benefits?

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  • Carbon Sequestration
    • The production of biochar takes carbon that has been assimilated in organic matter by photosynthesis and transforms it into an inorganic stable form. This carbon has been shown to be stable in some soils for thousands of years. Therefore the production of biochar is a simple and effective way of utilising waste biomass, sequestering carbon and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Soil Amendment
    • Increases root growth and promotes beneficial soil microbes
      • Biochar’s application to soil has been subject to extensive scientific research which is still ongoing. It has been shown to increase plant growth in a range of soils and conditions. It works particularly well in nutrient poor and degraded soils and is thought to act by increasing root growth and attracting beneficial soil microbes – including symbiotic mycorrhizae.
    • Water retention
      • The high surface area of biochar means it can absorb and retain large amounts of water. This makes biochar beneficial in areas where lack of water may be a problem for plant growth.
    • Adsorbs nutrients
      • The charges on the surface of the biochar attract and adsorb nutrients. As a consequence less leaching occurs when biochar is applied to soils and this in turn is not only beneficial for the environment – but can also reduce fertiliser use in the long term.
  • Waste to a useful Product
    • Waste biomass can be a large problem and expensive to dispose of. The pyrolysis of this biomass can be an effective, environmentally friendly way of disposing of waste organic material and turning it into a useful and valuable agricultural product.
  • Many other uses
    • Biochar however has many other potential benefits – many of which are just taking off. For example biochar can be used in animal feed to increase the growth rate of livestock and help protect against disease. It can also be used in the treatment of slurry to reduce ammonia and methane emissions. It can even be used in the production of cosmetic products, fuel and activated carbon.

Biochar has a multitude of applications from being used to enhance plant growth to the treatment of slurry and sequestering carbon. Developing biochar’s use across the world will aid in the development of a sustainable carbon economy, benefitting not only individual clients but also the world.

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Recently, Earth Systems and Territory Natural Resource Management conducted biochar soil trials at an organic farm in Northern. The biochar was produced and supplied by Earth Systems’ CharMaker MPP20 using waste wood as the feedstock. Key results of the trials include a 25% crop yield increase in one of the zucchini plots, increased pH, soil carbon and available water capacity. 

Click here to read more about the soil trials.

 

Other Products of the Pyrolysis Process

The pyrolysis process causes organic compounds to volatise and in traditional charcoal production these are released into the atmosphere or incinerated. However with technology and expertise at Earth Systems we are able to capture these gases and condense them to form a number of different bio liquids which have agricultural and power generating applications.

  • Bio Liquids and Gases
    • The condensable products form a liquid which separates into three phases – a top layer of light oil, a bottom layer of thick wood tar and a middle layer of what is known as wood vinegar. Some of these liquids are combustible and can be utilised a sustainable fuel source for powering heaters or engines.
  • Wood Vinegar
    • One of the layers that separates out is an acidic layer high in methanol and acetic acid content, often termed wood vinegar or pyroligneous acid. Research has shown wood vinegar to have a number of useful applications including use as a plant derived pesticide, for improving the health of livestock and as a sustainable wood preservative. It has also been shown to enhance plant germination rates and can be used to aid ecosystem restoration work.
  • Heat and Power
    • The pyrolysis process produces a lot of heat which can be utilised for a number of applications. For example it could be used to dry out biomass, preparing it for pyrolysis. The energy could also be used for electricity generation.