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Biochar: an effective carbon capture method–An International Leverhulme Trust Network

Increased interest in bioenergy and bioproducts derived from the thermal conversion of biomass residues has stimulated research on the valorisation of biochar. Initial studies and field tests around the world are successfully confirming biochar’s unique soil amendment properties. In addition, biochar offers a viable way to reduce CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and presents an economical alternative to CO2 capture and storage. Multidisciplinary research in the sustainable production and use of biochar as a long-term storage for CO2 is still in its infancy: some of the questions which are still unresolved are, for instance, the selection of the sources of suitable biomass, the processing conditions for the production of biochar, and its effects on the soil properties and on plants and microbial species. The fundamental questions on biochar production and usage are still to be exploited at an industrial scale; consequently, despite being potentially the most effective way of capturing CO2, basic research on biochar still needs to be undertaken by assembling a multidisciplinary network of scientists and engineers capable of tackling these complex scientific issues.

The creation of the UK-Canadian Network will investigate the potential of  biochar as a technically and economically effective method of capturing carbon in a stabilised form while, simultaneously, increasing soil quality and thus adaptability of agriculture to climate change.

The specific key objectives of the Network, among others, are:

  1. Exchange methodologies and experiences thermal cracking for biochar production with the aim to develop and promote best practice guidelines.
  2. Develop modelling methodologies to complement and expand on the experimental expertise in the UK and Canada
  3. Train the young generation of researchers in the area
  4. Create the critical mass to position the UK and Canada as the leaders in the area of biochar production, utilisation and standardisation
  5. Create a dedicated website
  6. Rise the awareness of the public and policy makers about biochar as a sustainable option for climate change mitigation and adaptation by publicising important outcomes of the network activities (website, social media, open days with media presence etc.).

The Networks comprises two UK and 4 Canadian partners, with complementary expertise:

Heriot-Watt University, UK
Modelling of chemical reactions involved in the production of bio-char as well as of the transport phenomena and carbon stability occurring while the bio-char is dispersed in the soil.

University of Edinburgh, UK
Production of bio-chars from a variety of different feedstock using continuous slow pyrolysis units on laboratory and pilot-scale under different operating conditions (temperature, residence time, particle size). Post processing of biochar.

Western University, Canada
Production of bio-chars from a variety of different feedstocks and different operating conditions (temperature, residence time, particle size) using continuous flash pyrolysis laboratory and pilot scale units.

University of Saskatchewan
Upgrading/doping/activation of bio-char to enhance opportunities for utilisation and value (i.e. applications as soil amendment/fertilisers, adsorption agents, activated carbon).

McGill University
Experimental investigation of the interactions between bio-char and plants and microbial species in the soil.