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Environmental and socio-economic impacts of utilizing waste for biochar in rural areas in Indonesia – a systems perspective

TitleEnvironmental and socio-economic impacts of utilizing waste for biochar in rural areas in Indonesia – a systems perspective
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsSparrevik, Magnus, Lindhjem Henrik, Andria Verania, Fet Annik Magerholm, and Cornelissen Gerard
JournalEnviron. Sci. Technol.

Biochar is the product of incomplete combustion (pyrolysis) of organic material. In rural areas, it can be used as a soil amendment to increase soil fertility. Fuel-constrained villagers may however prefer to use biochar briquettes as a higher-value fuel for cooking over applying it to soils. A systems-oriented analysis using life cycle assessment (LCA) and cost benefit analysis (CBA) was conducted to analyze these two alternative uses of biochar, applying the study to a rural village system in Indonesia. The results showed soil amendment for enhanced agricultural production to be the preferential choice with a positive benefit to the baseline scenario of -26 ecopoints (LCA) and -173 USD (CBA) annually pr. household. In this case, the positive effects of carbon sequestration to the soil and the economic value of the increased agricultural production outweighed the negative environmental impacts from biochar production and the related production costs. Use of biochar in briquettes for cooking fuel yielded negative net effects in both the LCA and CBA (85 ecopoints and 176 USD), even when positive health effects from reduced indoor air pollution were included. The main reasons for this are that emissions during biochar production are not compensated by carbon sequestration, and that briquette making is labor-intensive. The results emphasize the importance of investigating and documenting the carbon storage effect and the agricultural benefit in biochar production-utilization systems for a sustainable use. Further research focus on efficient production is necessary due to the large environmental impact of biochar production. In addition, biochar should continue to be used in those soils where the agricultural effect is most beneficial.