Biochar revolution to benefit climate and agriculture

More positive scientific results have reinforced the potential of ‘biochar’ to revolutionise climate mitigation and adaptation in Australian agriculture, Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said today.

"Biochar is a product being hailed as a possible saviour for Australia’s carbon-depleted soils, that also has multiple greenhouse gas benefits," Mr Macdonald said.

"Researchers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries continue to unlock the potential of biochar, which is a charcoal-like product that is the residue of a renewable energy production process called slow-pyrolysis.

"Products like paper mill waste, green waste, animal manures or other biomass can be recycled by heating to 550 degrees Celsius in the absence of oxygen, generating energy and biochar.

"Adding biochar to soil not only provides an economical way to sequester carbon, but also has soil health benefits which will help farmers adapt to climate variability and increase productivity."

Minister Macdonald said a number of scientific projects within NSW DPI were researching biochar, testing its value as a soil amendment and developing it as a tool for climate change mitigation.

"Biochar holds particular potential for long-term carbon sequestration, improving soil health and water holding capacity, and further reducing emissions of greenhouse gases associated with fertiliser application.

"Recent studies have found a 150 per cent increase in corn yield when biochar is applied at the rate of 20 tonnes to the hectare.

"NSW DPI scientists are working on placing an economic valuation on biochar to promote commercial production and application of the product."

NSW DPI is addressing the current shortage of biochar by undertaking a scoping study for a slow-pyrolysis plant on the north coast of NSW.

The study is in collaboration with BEST Energies Australia, Ballina Council and the Department of State and Regional Development.

"The study is a feasibility assessment for building a facility in the Northern Rivers region as a commercial demonstration and will include a preliminary economic analysis," Mr Macdonald said.

"If adopted within NSW, slow-pyrolysis plants could take biomass waste from urban and rural areas converting it into valuable products (energy and biochar) for use in agriculture and forestry."

Minister Macdonald also recognised the contribution of DPI scientists Lukas Van Zwieten, Stephen Kimber, Annette Cowie, Yin Chan and BP Singh who contributed to the book, Biochar for Environmental Management.

The book will be launched at an international conference next month.

Staff profiles

Lukas Van Zwieten

Stephen Kimber

Annette Cowie

Yin Chan

BP Singh