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Research

Biochar and Energy from Trees

Greening Australia
University of Adelaide
CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences

Biochar

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Syngas sampling in Victoria.The overarching framework for this initiative is the Habitat 141 project, which aims to rehabilitate a vast tract of land in southeast Australia about the size of all of England and Scotland. This project will explore the integration of bioenergy plantations into agricultural systems and the feasibility of generating energy locally to reduce the local carbon footprint of the community. 

Using strong networks, Greening Australia and the University of Melbourne will bring together leading farmer groups, landholders, leaders in the bioenergy industry and academic researchers, to undertake a feasibility assessment based on triple-bottom-line environmental, social and economic impacts. The landscape analysis conducted by this project will generate clear guidelines for landholders wishing to integrate tree crops into their business model.

The project focuses on two ways to harness carbon markets and bioenergy for reforestation: biochar and bioenergy. Biochar is a carbon-rich solid product resulting from heating natural organic materials such as crop waste, woodchips, manure or other organic waste, in a high temperature oxygen-limited environment. It is essentially charcoal made from organic materials, however biochar is used primarily for the long-term capture and storage of carbon (biosequestration), rather than for fuel.  It also has agricultural applications. Because biochar is a very stable form of carbon, it can be used to draw carbon down from the atmosphere, and can reduce the impact of farming since it can sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years. In addition, biochar improves soil tilth and fertility by absorbing nutrients for plant growth and increases water retention, and reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. The integration of biochar into the farming system can potentially assist in tightening the energy/carbon loop.

Bioenergy is renewable energy derived from biological sources, such as woody matter. As part of the biochar production process, bioenergy in the form of heat and gas is released. Scientists on this project are studying syngas (which refers to "synthetic gas" or "synthesis gas"), the type of combustible fuel generated from the production of biochar. 

The key activities of the project are to:

  • Determine optimum composition and configurations of diverse native species plantations to deliver the greatest productivity, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and bioenergy production benefits
  • Identify and develop mechanisms for harnessing emerging carbon and bioenergy markets to drive large scale, strategic environmental remediation activities
  • Examine the costs and benefits of "closing the bioenergy loop" by returning biochar generated through bioenergy production to soil in farming and revegetation
  • Conduct a feasibility analysis for incorporation of bioenergy crops into local farming systems; and
    Provide practical guidelines for local communities wishing to take up bioenergy options. 

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