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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