Biochar is the solid product from lignocellulosic biomass thermochemical conversion, such as pyrolisys, gasification and hydrothermal carbonization , together with gas and a liquid phase (Bio-oil). Slow pyrolysis is the biomass conversion process that maximizes the yield in terms of solid residue, the charcoal; this product is mainly characterized by a high content of stable C and high porosity. Both type of initial feedstock characteristics and process parameters affect biochar yield and the main physico-chemical characteristics such as pore structure, surface area, pH, electrical conductivity (EC) and nutrient retention potential.
This material has a growing international interest thanks to its wide range of possible applications and uses in many fields, in particular in sustainable agriculture.
Biochar potential applications and uses
Biochar, in fact, is an innovative soil improver, as it seems to preserve soil fertility by improving the physico-chemical and biological properties of soil, furthermore it increases the soil water holding capacity while storing stable carbon in the soil. These characteristics are particularly interesting in marginal lands and regions where rain is scarce, desertification risk is high and irrigation is difficult for a number of environmental or economic reasons. Furthermore, biochar has additional agronomic effects that have the potential to give to the soil the characteristic of resilience and resistance to desertification (e.g. liming pH, habitat for microorganism propagation, high cation exchange capacity, nutrient retention for plant availability, etc.).
In addition, co-composting of organic matter and biochar, if compared to conventional composting, can positively affect the composting process (residence time, reducing both N-compound losses in the atmosphere and leaching), favoring the microbiological activity and in turn increasing the humification process, eliminating or reducing the need for additional bulking agent.
Biochar, alone or co-composted, also contributes to long-term atmospheric C sequestration in soil, offering a rather low-complexity solution if compared to most of the available C sequestering state-of-the-art technologies.
RE-CORD can test new feedstock for biochar production (e.g. wood waste, crop residues, switch grass, bagasse from the sugarcane industry, chicken litter, dairy manure, sewage sludge and paper sludge), obtaining a fully characterized product, verifying also the compliance with regulations (e.g. Italian fertilizer law). Furthermore, RE-CORD can start specific investigation (at lab scale) for the choice of more suitable feedstock and for designing the better process parameters so to obtain a custom-made biochar for new applications (e.g. enhancing absorbent properties).