Go through this guide to get a quick evaluation of your biochar project. Start by picking the storyline that fits you best.
Last updated: January 21, 2022
Pick a storyline below:
As you go through this guide, take notes & draft a flowchart of your biochar project using the template & examples below.
Template flowchart for biochar system
You have access to some biomass resource, and you want to valorise it. Can pyrolysis be an option? What would you use the biochar and other pyrolysis co-products for? Shall you produce biochar yourself or send your biomass somewhere else?
To characterise the biomass stream, the following questions are relevant:
Besides these general considerations, the physical & chemical properties of the biomass may be relevant to investigate. If lab analyses are not already available, one can have a look in databases (https://phyllis.nl/) or the litterature.
Finally, another important aspect is the potential alternative fate of biomass or land (explained here):
These alternatives are important when performing environmental comparisons.
Regardless of the type of biomass (wood, grass, manure, sludge, algae), a pyrolysis process can be designed. However, other aspects will determine whether you could invest in a pyrolysis reactor yourself, or if a third-party shall do it. Two such criterias are:
Similar cases that started with a biomass stream at hand:
You have a need for some energy service, e.g. heating of premises, steam generation, or even biofuel. You want to know whether you should meet that energy need by biomass pyrolysis?
To characterise the energy need, the following questions are relevant:
From a systems perspective, it is important to consider current & alternative supply of the energy demand:
Based on the characterised energy need:
Will the expected production be used directly, and for what application? If so, what biochar properties are needed & what potential environmental benefits could be obtained?Alternatively, biochar or excess biochar can be sold to a wholesaler. (check also Storyline 3)
Similar cases that started with an energy need:
You are developing and selling some kind of material product. You would like to consider whether biochar could be a component of your next product?
The main driver for including some biochar in your product formulation should be to create a product i) with specific desired properties and ii) an improved environmental performance relative to alternative equivalent products.
Ideally, the main driver should not be to sequester carbon nor to “offset” the greenhouse gas emissions of the product via the biochar carbon sink – this should be seen as a secondary effect.
You can think in terms of:
Physico-chemical: bulk density, porosity, nutrient content, ash content, water holding capacity, nutrient holding capacity, sorption, adsorption, surface area, colour, odour, particle size, sieving profile, pH, elemental content
Mechanical properties: elasticity, tensile strength, elongation, hardness and fatigue
Biological properties: habitat, enhanced or inhibition of activity
What implications does this have on the type of biochar you will use?
Improved environmental performance of a product is always relative to one or multiple references (see our explanation on the relativeness of effects here).
The first step here is to consider what alternative products can serve as a benchmark. This can be a product without biochar, whether it is the current generation of a product you are selling, or another version under development. It can also be a product with another type of biochar, as biochars do not have the same properties.
Environmental effects can be of several types:
Change in technosphere inputs: product manufacturing uses different materials or different amounts, e.g. biochar-compost blend replacing peat substrate, lower fertiliser requirement
Change in biosphere exchanges: direct environmental emissions are different, e.g. biological processeses affected, water filtering function
Change in technosphere outputs: more service is delivered by a unit of product, e.g. increased product lifetime or durability, higher product efficiency
You can read more about biochar effect identification in our dedicated paper (Azzi et al. 2021)
At first, we recommend buying biochar. It is usually easier, allows for development & testing of biochar-products. However, you should pay attention to what kind of biochar you get, in relation to the material properties you need (identified above) & the transparency of the supplier regarding biomass sourcing, production process conditions, and certifications.
Similar cases that started with adding biochar to the formulation of a product:
You have heard about biochar, and you would like to invest or support a biochar project. Alternatively, you are a decision-maker or a consultant, and you have to decide whether or not to proceed with a biochar project?
Ideally, you could have a look at our overall biochar system description over here & its different modules.
Then, by scanning the above 3 storylines, you could get to understand the perspectives arising from different needs & resources available.
Finally, we recommend making a flowchart using the template provided at the top of the page.