Biochar - Bruce Tofield (UEA - InCrops Project)


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Biochar - Bruce Tofield (UEA - InCrops Project)

  1. 1. Biochar Farming Futures Workshop 11 November 2010 Bruce Tofield
  2. 2. • A not-for-profit, spin-out company from the University of East Anglia • Aim: to stimulate the development and adoption of products and processes from alternative and non-food crops and agri-food residues InCrops Ltd
  3. 3. • A technology transfer project stimulating innovation in alternative and non-food crops in the East of England • Working with businesses to accelerate the development, uptake and introduction of new bio-renewable products and processes • Funded by the East of England Development Agency and European Regional Development Fund InCrops Enterprise Hub
  4. 4. • Bioenergy and biofuels Bianca Forte • Biopolymers and biocomposites Dr Liliya Serazetdinova • Biorefineries and algal technologies Dr Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley InCrops Ltd • Nutraceuticals anf functional foods Dr Mark Coleman • Green built environment Bennedict Binns • Sustainable agricultural practices Dr Carlos Gonzalez-Esquivel Key areas of expertise:
  5. 5. The hub draws upon the complementary expertise of 13 partners InCrops Enterprise Hub
  6. 6. Key questions How can we manage agriculture in a more sustainable manner? Does biochar offer a shorter-term route to a more sustainable agriculture? Are there also major markets in waste treatment? How can we develop a viable and sustainable biochar economy in the UK and more widely?
  7. 7. Biochar Potential major benefit for • soil quality • agricultural productivity • nutrient use • water retention • promoting biological health of soils • ghg reduction from soils • carbon sequestration But many uncertainties and unknowns Pathway to commercialisation uncertain
  8. 8. Right: a nutrient poor oxisol; Left: an oxisol transformed into fertile terra preta (Glaser et al, Naturwiss., 2001) Amazonian Dark Earths (ADE) The ADE have remarkable fertility compared to the nutrient poor soils from which they were created some hundreds of years ago. They are rich in charcoal as well as in other nutrients laid down by early agriculturalists. Awareness of the ADE has been very significant in stimulating interest in biochar
  9. 9. Biochar does not degrade in soils Compost and other organic material in soils is valuable but mineralises (converts to CO2) in just a few years. Biochar will remain essentially unchanged for hundreds or even thousands of years – carbon sequestration really is possible Up to 35 per cent of SOC in some US soils is charcoal from natural processes (Skjemstad et al, 2002) Compost must be applied annually Biochar only once or very infrequently
  10. 10. But market failure • Insufficient evidence to support purchase for agriculture • No commercial pull to support manufacturing capability • Almost no commercial biochar plants worldwide • Trials world-wide mostly small-scale • Depending on lab-scale or pilot-plant production • Insufficient knowledge of behaviour in temperate soils • These knowledge gaps create market failure • No flexible production facility in the UK • Capability does not exist to advance understanding
  11. 11. Overcoming market failure InCrops investigative work on the potential of biochar in the UK: • Identify applications and niche markets in which it is commercially attractive to produce/use biochar • Explore the potential for establishing flexible, low-cost production capability to support and stimulate scientific study and identify and engage with innovators to stimulate innovation in this field • Trial a range of chars from a range of feedstocks in a range of temperate soils on a range of crops using a range of biochar treatments and inoculations
  12. 12. Biochar Process Percentage of raw biomass converted to biochar Raw biomass needed to yield 11.3 Mt of biochar (10t ha-1 ) Raw biomass needed to yield 45.2 Mt of biochar (40t ha-1 ) Gasification 10% 113 million tonnes 452 million tonnes Fast Pyrolysis 15% 75 million tonnes 301 million tonnes Slow Pyrolysis 35% 32 million tonnes 129 million tonnes Table 12: Quantities of biomass required for treatment of all arable land# in the East of England (Collison et al, 2009*) Potential biomass Requirements * The LCIC report for EEDA, “Biochar and Carbon Sequestration: A Regional Perspective” # 1.13m ha including rotational grassland and set aside; for grassland also add 20 per cent
  13. 13. Biomass CHP power plant being commissioned Innovative low-carbon renewable energy source First of its kind in Europe Biochar production at UEA 10,000 tonnes wood chip input pa 200-300 tonnes biochar by-product pa Low yield, good for trials, but no flexibility in input biomass
  14. 14. Biomass is potentially available Perhaps 2m tonnes available biomass and biowaste per year in East of England Vegetables and salads occupy only 2 per cent of arable agricultural area There is sufficient biomass available, in principle, to produce biochar for application to the most appropriate soils such as sandy soils used for vegetables and salads And current market failure means no biochar while UK renewable energy strategy might appropriate all available biomass for combustion in power plants But we need a high-conversion biochar production technology
  15. 15. Potential conflict with RE strategy UK Bioenergy Strategy does not include biochar – potential competition for resources - urgency Even at 2 per cent application in E England, approx 200,000 tonnes biochar at 10t ha-1 , application will take 1000 years from one UEA gasifier But all present-day biomass resources will be needed to meet 2020 UK renewable energy targets Biochar cannot be produced in quantity from biomass gasifiers used for energy generation – 2-3% yield, excellent for trials, not viable for large-scale application More productive, economic, possibly smaller-scale technologies will be required with 20-30% conversion
  16. 16. InCrops Biochar Steering Group • Academic and private sector engagement aimed at further developing the scientific knowledge required to accelerate industry uptake and encourage innovation in this field • The Steering Group will work to overcome market failure by e.g. helping to develop R&D programmes, including for the development of associated technologies, and identifying partners for applied projects • First meeting held at Rothamsted Research in September 2010 • Will investigate low-cost, portable technology that offers the flexibility to produce a range of biochars