Biochar Demonstrator Addressing Key Deployment Barriers for Carbon Sequestration

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering


For the UK to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050, it is estimated that the mix of Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) technologies required will equate to ca. 35 M tonnes of carbon (MtC) p.a. Biochar can potentially make a major contribution both to this target and the adoption of farming practices described by the Committee on Climate Change (2020) to achieve a 64% reduction by 2050 in greenhouse gas emissions across agriculture, land use and peatlands by 64% from the 2017 level of 16 MtC. However, there are some significant challenges to overcome. There is limited availability of virgin wood to produce biochar and there are no large-scale production plants operating in the UK. Further, as well as economic viability and societal acceptability, there are concerns over biochar stability with initial degradation occurring over relatively short timescales.

We propose to conduct the most ambitious and comprehensive demonstration programme to date involving arable and grassland, woodland, contaminated land, and where soil erosion control is required. Using over 200 tonnes of biochar, we will address uncertainties regarding the extent and scope of deployment and its stability with respect to carbon sequestration, together with quantifying effects on ecosystem services.

The proposed research programme is highly inter-disciplinary, bridging engineering, geoscience, bioscience, social science and techno-economics, specifically designed to provide answers to the key challenges outlined and establish whether biochar can make a significant contribution to meet the UK's 2050 GGR target . The quantitative approach that we will adopt based on internationally leading science represents a step-change for biochar research in the UK, which has focussed primarily on agricultural benefits and not addressed the key challenges regarding carbon sequestration that are needed to reduce the uncertainty for policy development. Alternative bio-derived feedstocks that will significantly increase the production potential by >1 MtC p.a, will be identified. Two of our industrial partners, CEG and CPL operate demonstration and commercial plants, making them ideally placed to establish biochar production at scale in the UK. The extensive trials will provide a sound basis for establishing the potential for biochar deployment across agriculture, contaminated and reclaimed land and woodland, enabling regional and national scale effects to be quantified. To date, most field trials have been relatively localised and short-term. We aim to deploy char in large-scale farming and land management scenarios where the effects of 'real-world' management practices on the behaviour of char will be evaluated. Our excellent links with the farming sector, including the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the National Farmers' Union, will provide the springboard to explore a wide range of stakeholder perspectives on biochar's role in GGR to aid policy development. .

The Demonstrator will address concerns over environmental health and soil ecosystem service functioning and will provide the first comprehensive assessment of biochar stability in the UK and its impact on greenhouse gas soil emissions, with our international leading biological science and analytical capabilities. This will enable robust policy to be developed in which payments are based on the amount of carbon sequestered over extended timescales. Our business models will be based on our integrated life cycle and techno-economic analysis, identifying the carbon prices required to make deployment feasible and incorporating co-benefits of biochar use in agriculture. The Demonstrator will provide the Hub with all the necessary scientific, technological, environmental, economic and societal evidence to enable biochar deployment to be assessed in relation to other GGR approaches.


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Description Contributed to and acknowledged in Parliamentary POSTNOTE Number 662: Restoring Agricultural Soils
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description Direct air capture and greenhouse gas removal programme: Phase 1 - Bio-waste to Biochar (B to B) via Hydrothermal Carbonisation and Post-Carbonisation
Amount £214,580 (GBP)
Organisation Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2021 
End 01/2022
Description UoN - Engineering - Equipment and facilities funding
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Description Local biochar cooperative in the Rutland area. The company is developing a biochar production and distribution facility in Rutland to aid the agricultural community and achieve Net Zero carbon emissions through the deployment of a new biochar facility. Currently in the concept phase the new facility aims to be an exemplar and centre of excellence for biochar manufacture of relevance nationally and internationally. The Biochar Demonstrator are partnered with Farm Black Magic and supporting them with funding applications and with biochar expertise as their business develops. 
Year Established 2021 
Impact None so far, the company is still in it's infancy.
Description Biochar Talk - East Midlands Farm Management Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk by Professor Paul Wilson to members of EMFMA on opportunities for locking up carbon in soils using biochar; progress made in recruiting farmers and contractors for biochar deployment campaign.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Community Outreach - Listen by the Lake 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Audio listening posts to be established in Highfields Park Nottingham. Early careers researchers won one of these posts to record a short message about their research aimed at children and families. The posts a due to be erected in April 2022. The posts will be accessible to the general public and hope to spark discussions about science and climate change.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Expert Advisory Group - Biochar Demonstrator 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Expert advisory board for GGR Biochar Demonstrator, engaged with stakeholders and industry experts to gain insight and share research developments. Initial meeting was successful, informing the board of research to date and facilitating discussions going forward. The board will meet quarterly, providing a sounding board for the demonstrator as well as well as expanding the demonstrator network and access to important stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021