Commercialization of Biochar and the Benefits for Climate Change and Agriculture

By Nate D. Van Beilen
2016, Vol. 8 No. 12 | pg. 3/3 |


The goal of this paper was to develop an understanding of the properties and benefits of biochar, how these properties and benefits relate to agriculture and the carbon cycle, and whether the carbon sequestration potential for biochar is economically viable. By exploring the chemical, physical, and biological properties of biochar and how they affect soil, this paper determined that biochar has largely positive effects on soil ecosystems as well as agriculture in general. However, there are issues and complexities in both the gathering of biochar feedstocks and within the pyrolysis operations themselves that can complicate biochar production. As a result, the cost benefit analysis must consider a wide range of variables that are specific to feedstocks, local or regional capacity, collection methods, pyrolysis speed and temperature, and market conditions.

It is sadly ironic that the bounds of sustainability that biochar initiatives aim to adhere to, such as internalizing all costs, are also preventing those initiatives from providing the sustainable solutions and products that are desperately needed. Essentially, the successful commercialization of biochar requires that the energy and agricultural sectors internalize costs that have traditionally been externalized onto society and the environment.

Part of the reason why biochar is not yet economically feasible on a large scale is because of the attempt to respond to sustainability issues in a sustainable way. Biochar industrial commercialization is attempting to operationalize practices within the bounds of sustainability within a broader system where the bounds of sustainability are not fully recognized, respected, or even accepted. It is sadly ironic that the bounds of sustainability that biochar initiatives aim to adhere to, such as internalizing all costs, are also preventing those initiatives from providing the sustainable solutions and products that are desperately needed.

Essentially, the successful commercialization of biochar requires that the energy and agricultural sectors internalize costs that have traditionally been externalized onto society and the environment. Small scale biochar initiatives, on the other hand, are more economically viable, especially in developing countries. However, there are barriers such as institutional capacity, lack of awareness, and a need for broad stakeholder involvement. These barriers can be overcome more easily than the sustainability challenge of large scale biochar initiatives. The success of small scale biochar projects might be a precursor for larger scale projects as they can demonstrate environmental benefits that are not yet economically valued in the contemporary marketplace.

Despite the issues that biochar commercialization faces, the potential for biochar to provide solutions for soil loss, degraded soils, food security, and climate change are very exciting. Carbon markets will continue to expand and governments will hopefully enact progressive legislation that requires industry to internalize more of their costs. One of the main barriers to biochar entering mainstream markets is a lack of consumer awareness and education (International Biochar Initiative, 2015). Public education about carbon pricing, agricultural sustainability, negative externalities, and carbon sequestration is a necessary step for biochar to reach its full potential as a part of an overall solution to come of the major climatic and agricultural issues of the world today.


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