PRESS RELEASE: Enhanced Irish research and development required on biochar for its potential to be realised- IrBEA

For Immediate Release

Biochar production and use is an emerging opportunity in Ireland that needs to be embraced for its full benefit to be realised in addressing a series of challenges across many of our sectors. Biochar could benefit the forestry, agricultural and environmental sectors as a soil remediator, a slow-release fertiliser, a filtration medium, an animal feed additive, a potential peat replacement and as a carbon sink to name but a few.

Stephen McCormack, Project Executive with the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) said:” While levels of research into biochar and its various applications are increasing, much more is needed for its widescale production and use to be realised. We call on National authorities, research and funding bodies to take this opportunity seriously by providing greatly enhanced funding and resources to further explore and understand biochar’s uses and applications in an Irish context.”

Biochar can be produced from indigenous biomass including food processing waste, woody biomass, fibrous grassy material or from a variety of sludges or manures. Biochar production is accessible at many scales and equipment can vary in size and complexity, depending on output required.

McCormack continued: “Biochar is increasingly being used in different applications across many industries. Its porous nature, large surface area, surface chemistry, ability to bind with different substances and adsorption capacity makes it a very versatile and useful material. All these properties need to be further investigated in an Irish context through funded research and development projects.”

Biochar makes a useful tool for binding with nutrients and water in the soil, allowing for their retention. Farmers can add it to slurry, manure and composting processes, aiding in the reduction of fugitive emissions and odorous compounds. It can be used as an additive for animal bedding, poultry litter and animal feed. These applications have the added benefit of increasing the carbon content of the material that gets composted, land spread or incorporated into the soil. Biochar, in the form of activated carbon, is showing promise in water and wastewater treatment. Biochar filters on farms can reduce nutrient run off and reduce the risk of eutrophication.

Seán Finan, CEO of IrBEA, said “Biochar production can play a part in many sectors and also in the provision of renewable heat. In the thermal conversion, through pyrolysis, of biomass to biochar, you end up with a valuable solid product in the biochar, but also a usable source of renewable heat. The phrase combined heat and biochar has been used to describe this set up and needs to be developed further.”

McCormack concluded: “IrBEA and a number of its members are actively involved in the biochar space for the past number of years. Biochar is now commercially available here. IrBEA has shown leadership through projects such as the current Interreg funded THREE C project. We have been engaging with those involved in the research and development of this sector, not only here, but across Europe. Ireland has a growing number of biochar producers and end users. The appetite strongly exists for enhanced research and development to facilitate the further growth of the sector. It is an interesting time to be involved in the biochar space. IrBEA are open to working with those interested in collaboration for the development of the sector here in Ireland on behalf of our members.”


Notes to Editors:

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What is Biochar?
• High carbon content solid material made by heating biomass in the absence of oxygen in process called pyrolysis.
• Can be made from a wide variety of biomass, which once converted thermally, are recalcitrant or extremely stable, meaning it won’t decompose potentially for hundreds of years.
• Being highly porous, it makes an excellent adsorbent. One gramme of powdered biochar can have a surface area of anywhere between 10 and 500 meters squared. This makes it an excellent filtration medium.
• Biochar was highlighted by the 2018 report by the (IPCC) intergovernmental panel on climate change as being a promising Negative Emissions Technology, meaning it has potential to draw down and sequester atmospheric carbon.
• It shows great potential as a soil improver, increasing carbon content and providing habitats for beneficial soil microbiology.
• Biochar production facilities increasingly involved in voluntary carbon removal markets.
• Modern production facilities will have a way to utilise the excess thermal energy produced, increasing efficiencies (as process heat or district heating networks as an example).
• IrBEA counts among its membership, biomass suppliers, bulk biochar producers, pyrolysis technology providers and developers, animal feed additive producers, soil & plant feed additive producers, activated carbon specialists and biochar analytics.

• THREE C (Creating the Circular Carbon Economy) is a three-year Interreg Northwest Europe funded project that runs from January 2020 to December 2022.
• It is being led by the University of Kassel in Germany
• It has a total budget of €5.62 million and 13 project partners and sub partners spread over the 6 participating countries which are Germany, Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Wales, and Ireland.
• It is focused on the circular economy and innovation based on carbon feedstocks and is the follow up project to the recently finished RE-DIRECT project
• A professional development course for those who wish to investigate biochar-based products or services is now underway with over 40 participants from the 6 countries involved, with plans to run the course annually for new participants.
• During the project period:

  • 7 regional Circular Carbon Hubs (CC-Hubs) will be established for product and business development and marketing.
  • Circular Carbon-Labs (CC-Labs) will develop quality control mechanisms for tailor-made products and raw materials
  •  1 European umbrella organisation (CC-Net) provides business support, continuous vocational training, and advice for SMEs in the new sector.