Who we are?

The Australian and New Zealand Biochar Researchers Network is a collaborative group of scientists interested in advancing the understanding and application of biochar materials. Collectively our aim is to collaborate on research programs, promote and advocate the adoption of biochar investigation and use, and communicate the opportunities presented by biochar to policy makers, land managers, the public, industry and fellow scientists.

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The Committee members, representing over 125 scientists from more than 24 institutions, are currently:

Professor Annette Cowie (UNE / Rural Climate Solutions)

Dr Adriana Downie (University of NSW, Pacific Pyrolysis)

Professor Jim Jones (Massey University) 

Professor Stephen Joseph (University of NSW)

Dr Evelyn Krull (CSIRO)

Dr Attilio Pigneri (Talent with Carbon)

Adj Professor Lukas Van Zwieten (NSW DPI / Rural Climate Solutions)

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What is biochar?

Biochar is the carbon-rich solid product resulting from the heating of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment. Due to its highly aromatic structure, biochar is chemically and biologically more stable compared with the organic matter from which it was made.

 For more information and a list of some frequently asked questions about biochar, please see  “biochar basics”

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What is the objective of the Network?

The Network aims to provide a forum that brings together biochar researchers and practitioners from Australia and New Zealand. The Network is dedicated to all facets of biochar research, including soil productivity enhancement, carbon sequestration, waste management, risk assessment and environmental management, sustainability of feedstock supply, greenhouse gas mitigation and bioenergy co-production. Our focus is centred on biochar research in the Australian and New Zealand context; however, we also engage in and encourage broader international collaboration.
The Network recommends the use of biochars made from sustainably harvested and renewable biomass resources. The use of biomass for the production of biochar should not diminish essential environmental services, such as maintenance of water and air quality, protection of soil resources, and conservation of biodiversity. Biochar research should focus on biochar applications that deliver a net environmental benefit.

We strongly recommend the use of biochar production processes that meet Australian/New Zealand environmental, health and safety standards. Production pathways should not make a net contribution of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, or adversely affect air and water quality.  

In the long-term, we aim to develop and promote the use of a production guideline for the manufacture and application of sustainable  biochar products. Such a guideline would include the use of a closed vessel, capture and usage of the evolved gases and environmental process controls. This is to ensure that relevant environmental regulations are met and biochar production is part of an overall environmentally sustainable process.  The production of a safe biochar product needs to ensure a decreased volatile carbon content and significantly increased fixed carbon content in the product compared with the feedstock. The process must increase the aromatic nature of the product. This is considered the essential step in stabilising the carbon in the biomass to effectively remove it from the short-term carbon cycle and enable long-term organic carbon sequestration in soil. 

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What directions may future biochar research lead?

The Network hopes to ensure effective research collaborations to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and the filling of gaps in biochar research. The network stresses that this site is strictly limited to data and information that has been obtained through validated and robust scientific methods. The following topics are just some examples of areas for ongoing and future research:

Interaction of biochar with soil microbial communities and plants:
The physical, biological and chemical processes that biochar may exert on microbial communities and their symbiotic interaction with plants, and possibly enhanced nutrient use efficiency, are not yet understood. The apparent contradiction between the high stability of biochar, soil organic matter accumulation and apparent enhancement of soil microbial activity needs to be resolved.  Research in Japan and in Germany has indicated that biochar can complex the carbon from dead micro-organisms.  Further research work is required to determine under what conditions this complexation takes place.

Cation exchange capacity (CEC):
While the CEC of fresh char itself is not very high biochar that has resided in soil for hundreds of years has been shown to have much higher CECs, comparable to those of zeolites. However, several studies have reported an increase in soil CEC after the application of fresh biochar. Thus, the processes that are instrumental in developing CEC over time as well as the effects that lead to an increase in CEC by addition of fresh (low CEC) biochar requires detailed understanding.

Water holding capacity:
The contribution that biochar can make to water retention, macro-aggregation and soil stability is poorly understood – yet should be of critical importance in climate change adaptation, where mitigating drought, nutrient loss and erosion are critical. 

Synergistic effects:
The interactions of biochar with soil organic matter as well as the mineral matrix need to be assessed in order to determine the nature and the environmental conditions under which synergistic effects  develop.

Erosion, transport and fate:
The loss of biochar through vertical or lateral flow is not quantified, and only recently have studies been initiated to examine movement through soil profiles and into water ways. It should be noted however that transport of biochar through the profile does not impact on its direct carbon sequestration potential.

Decreased emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases (e.g. N2O and CH4):
The currently available data on the effect of biochar additions on trace gas emission is very limited, but has a potentially great impact on the net benefit of biochar application. Development of cost effective means of measuring decreased emissions will ensure this potentially large greenhouse saving can be compliant with emissions trading schemes.

Soil carbon modelling:
Modelling of the linked carbon and nitrogen cycles in soil with and without application of biochar is essential to understanding the fundamental mechanisms referred to above, and the impact on soil-based emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Project specific Life Cycle Assessment (LCA):
The total environmental life cycle assessment has been conducted for some biochar case studies. Greenhouse balances, for example, are very project specific and hence there is opportunity to assess the benefits over a large range of feedstock, process and biochar application scenarios.

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