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Enhanced Irish R&D required on biochar for its potential to be realised - IrBEA

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

Biochar production and use is an emerging opportunity in Ireland that needs to be embraced for its full benefit to be realized in addressing a series of challenges across many sectors. Biochar could benefit the forestry, agricultural and environmental sectors as a soil remediator, a slow-release fertilizer, a filtration medium, an animal feed additive, a potential peat replacement, and as a carbon sink to name but a few the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) says (image courtesy RE-DIRECT).

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 the output required.

While levels of research into biochar and its various applications are increasing, much more is needed for its widescale production and use to be realized. 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 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, said Stephen McCormack, Project Executive with IrBEA.

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 runoff and reduce the risk of eutrophication.

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 setup and needs to be developed further, Seán Finan, CEO of IrBEA.

According to McCormack, IrBEA and a number of its members are actively involved in the biochar space for the past number of years with biochar commercially available in Ireland.

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 is open to working with those interested in collaboration for the development of the sector here in Ireland on behalf of our members, concluded Stephen McCormack.

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