Biochar is a form of charcoal produced from biomass (typically plant matter), specifically for use in soil amendment. It has received much interest recently for its potential uses in improving soil properties and also as a simple means for capturing and storing atmospheric carbon. Potential benefits to soil include improved nutrient and water retention, reduced soil acidity and increased habitat for beneficial soil microbes.
However, the behaviour of biochar in soils is complex, and is the subject of ongoing research efforts. To complicate matters, not all biochars are alike. To-date, many different biochars have been produced from different materials and under different conditions, and these have subsequently been applied in different climates to different soil types and crops. So, it is worth keeping in mind that the specific benefits of one biochar type and application context may not apply in general.
Biomass is converted to biochar by any number of technologies that involve pyrolysis (heating to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen). Where the value of the biochar product can be demonstrated, for example in agriculture or for carbon storage, commercial processes that take a biomass waste material (e.g. agricultural residue or organic waste matter) and convert it to biochar may be viable.
Earth Systems has in-house engineering expertise in biomass gasification and pyrolysis techniques, and has developed several approaches to biochar production. Currently, we are focusing on novel production strategies suited to particular feedstocks of environmental or economic significance. These include a transportable batch process for processing materials in remote areas (i.e. too far away to be brought to a central processing plant), and a high-throughput continuous process suited to a broad range of woody materials designed for integration into existing waste management practices.
- Feedstock characterisation and guidance on processing technology;
- Techno-economic feasibility studies;
- Design and development of biochar production equipment;
- Pilot plant trials;
- Biochar product trials in conjunction with research agencies;
- Carbon balances & project Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); and
- Waste heat recovery and cogeneration.
- Design of a 1 tonne/hr scalable continuous biochar process for woody waste
- Feasibility study and pilot-scale trials for a transportable pyrolysis system for biochar production in remote areas, including GHG emissions life-cycle
- Scoping study and testwork on bio-oil and biochar production from biosolids via hydrothermal upgrading (HTU)