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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 may be useful for restoring or revitalizing degraded forest soils and help with carbon sequestration, nutrient leaching losses, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, biochar is not currently widely used on forested lands across North America. This chapter provides an overview of several biochar experiments conducted in North America and discusses the feasibility of using in-woods mobile pyrolysis systems to convert excess forest biomass into biochar. Biochar may be applied to forest sites in order to positively influence soil properties (nutrient leaching, water holding capacity), but its biggest benefit may be in facilitating reforestation of degraded or contaminated sites, and in sequestering carbon in soils. The majority of data on biochar applications on forest sites focus on seedling responses and short-term impacts on nutrients, soil physical properties and microbial changes. Long-term field research is necessary to determine water use, carbon sequestration, nutrient use, and greenhouse gas emissions, and the subsequent alteration of forest growth and stand dynamics.
All products, including bioproducts, have an impact on the environment by consuming resources and releasing emissions during their production. Biochar, a bioproduct, has received considerable attention because of its potential to sequester carbon in soil while enhancing productivity, thus aiding sustainable supply chain development. In this chapter, the environmental impacts of producing biochar using a holistic method called life-cycle assessment (LCA) or more generally life-cycle analysis are discussed. LCA is an internationally accepted method that can calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) and other emissions for part or all of a product life cycle. The present chapter will show how LCA can assess environmental impacts of the entire supply chain associated with all steps of the biochar system, from biomass harvesting through biochar production to soil amendment, with a focus on the production stage. Exploring a biochar system from a forestry LCA perspective, a new thermochemical conversion technology developed in the United States and used to process waste woody biomass, will be described. In particular, the conversion unit’s environmental performance based on the LCA research conducted so far will be described. Although this chapter will present LCA mostly from a forestry perspective, non-forestry agricultural activities will also be discussed.
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