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Impact of Process Emissions on Climate Offsets by Different Biochar Production Methods

Agricultural use of biochar is generally considered a sustainable and climate-friendly way to increase farm productivity. These benefits, however, depend on how biochar is produced. I have performed some preliminary calculations for a range of biochar production technologies using published data for methane emission and biochar carbon efficiency that suggest that most biochar production approaches do not achieve carbon-neutrality until several decades to centuries after production. Given that carbon payback periods longer than a decade are considered unacceptable for climate-change mitigation technologies, it is clear that the biochar industry faces a significant challenge to clean up production emissions if biochar is to continue to claim to be climate friendly. I have assembled a team of biochar production experts who have agreed to work together to refine the model I have developed and to write a peer-reviewed publication that addresses the issue of methane, nitrous-oxide, and soot emissions during biochar production. This paper will introduce the problem, identify emission levels and production approaches that retain the climate benefits of biochar, and recommend biochar production research priorities to decrease emissions of climate-warming gases and aerosols. Further, we plan to make open-source versions of the algorithm (code and spreadsheet formats) freely available, and to publish the paper in an open-access format to ensure maximum impact. The proposed work resonates with several research goals of the BIOAg program and the WSU Grand Challenge in Sustaining Resources by addressing renewable, non-polluting, and environmentally sound approaches to production of food (as enhanced by biochar amendments to soils) and bioenergy. By sounding the alarm, we hope to spur the industry to address production emissions and ensure its economic future.

Grant Information

  • Project ID: 190
  • Project Status: Ongoing

2019

  • Principal Investigator(s): Amonette, J.
  • Grant Amount: $11670