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Climate change poses a fundamental threat to humanity, and thus solutions for both mitigation and adaptation strategies are becoming increasingly necessary. Biochar can offer a range of environmental services, such as reclamation of degraded land, improvement of soil fertility and carbon sequestration. However, it also raises questions, regarding sustainable feedstock provision, biomass pyrolysis, and soil amendment. These questions, among various others, are addressed in this state-of-the-art compendium. Covering a broad geographical range, with regional assessments from North America, Europe, the Near East, and Southeast Asia, this interdisciplinary volume focuses on the entire biochar supply chain, from the availability and economics of biomass resources, to pyrolysis, and ultimately to the impacts on soil properties. The combination of theory with practical examples makes this a valuable book for researchers, policymakers, and graduate students alike, in fields such as soil science, sustainable development, climate change mitigation, biomass and bioenergy, forestry, and environmental engineering.
This chapter gives an overview of the key technologies to produce biochar. First, an introduction will be given to the different thermochemical conversion techniques of dry biomass (including pyrolysis) which result in char as one of the product fractions. A second part of this chapter is devoted to the discussion on how the biochar physicochemical properties result from the type of biomass feedstock used, as well as from the prevailing process conditions applied during thermochemical conversion – as some of these physicochemical properties in biochar have a major impact on the functionality and stability of biochar in soil. A major challenge for the successful deployment of biochar systems is to render its production economically profitable. Hence, this chapter concludes with an economic assessment of biochar. This last part of the chapter also emphasizes the potential increase in value creation in the biochar production process by identifying potential economic uses of co-products, including bio-oil and producer gas.
Forests are important for providing wood for products and energy, and the demand for wood is expected to increase over the next decades. The potential woody biomass supply was estimated for the period 2000–2020 for stem wood as well as residues, taking into account economic, environmental and technical restrictions. Constraints reducing the availability of forest biomass were defined and quantified for three mobilisation scenarios and five wood price scenarios in order to estimate the realisable potentials. The theoretical biomass potential was estimated from Austrian forest inventory data and applying the PROGNAUS forest growth simulator. It lies between 32.7 and 38.4 million m3 equivalents yr-1 over bark for the period 2000–2020. The realisable potential in Austria was estimated in a range between 23.9 and 31.1 million m3 equivalents yr-1 over bark for the period 2000–2020. These potentials represent 73–84% of the theoretical potential. Nutrient sustainability in the context of whole-tree harvesting appeared to be an important constraint when considering how much biomass is realisable from forests. The attitude of private forest owners towards increased harvest of forest biomass is also of major importance for the realisable potential, given the small-scale structure of forest ownership in Austria.
Biomass provides 14% of the world’s primary energy production, but it is largely wasted by inefficient and unsustainable use. To exploit the full potential of this energy source, new approaches and modern technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification are needed. Pyrolysis is the most promising thermal decomposition method for the conversion of biomass into valuable bio-products. The process produces a solid fraction (biochar), a liquid fraction (bio-oil) and a mixture of gases. Depending on pyrolysis conditions, biochar for soil amendment, activated carbon, carbon fibers, bio-fuels, value-added chemicals (PF type adhesives, phenolics, levoglucosan, octane enhancers, fertilizers) and gas products (hydrogen, methane, ethane and propane) could be achieved. The ratio of the products varies with the chemical composition of the biomass and operating conditions such as pyrolysis temperature, heating rate, reactor configuration, pyrolysis atmosphere, reaction time, particle size and so on. In the scope of this issue, this chapter covers the definition and sources of biomass, thermal behavior of biomass and its components, fundamentals of the pyrolysis process, and effects of the process parameters on yields and composition of products. Moreover, properties of bio-oil and biochar are explained according to their utilization areas.
Biochar systems are designed to meet four related primary objectives: improve soils, manage waste, generate renewable energy, and mitigate climate change. Supply chain models provide a holistic framework for examining biochar systems with an emphasis on product life cycle and end use. Drawing on concepts in supply chain management and engineering, this chapter presents biochar as a manufactured product with a wide range of feedstocks, production technologies, and end use options. Supply chain segments are discussed in detail using diverse examples from agriculture, forestry and other sectors that cut across different scales of production and socioeconomic environments. Particular attention is focused on the environmental impacts of different production and logistics functions, and the relationship between supply chain management and life cycle assessment. The connections between biochar supply chains and those of various co-products, substitute products, and final products are examined from economic and environmental perspectives. For individuals, organizations, and broad associations connected by biochar supply and demand, achieving biochar’s potential benefits efficiently will hinge on understanding, organizing, and managing information, resources and materials across the supply chain, moving biochar from a nascent to an established industry.
Biochar as a boon for soil fertility in the tropics still has to show that it is able to provide the same benefits to soils in temperate regions. Here an Austrian study with the objective to analyze the extent of benefits that biochar application offers to agricultural soils in Europe beyond its role as a carbon sequestration strategy is presented. Based on hypothesis testing, several potential benefits of biochar were examined in a series of lab analyses, greenhouse and field experiments. Three hypotheses could be confirmed: biochar can protect groundwater by reducing the nitrate migration in seepage water; biochar can mitigate atmospheric greenhouse gas accumulation by reducing soil N2O emissions; and biochar can improve soil physical properties by increasing water storage capacity. One hypothesis was only partly confirmed: biochar supports the thriving of soil microorganisms only in specific soil and climate settings. Two hypotheses were refuted: biochar does not generally provide nutrients to plants except when produced from specific feedstocks or by combining it with mineral or organic fertilizers; the cost-effectiveness of biochar application is not given under current production costs if the existing benefits of biochar are not transferable to financial value.