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What is Biochar?

Updated: Apr 9, 2021



Hi everyone!


Indri's here from the research team. As I wrote last week, I want to write a new topic after writing biogas implementation in Indonesia (Part 1-5): biochar and carbon capture storage. However, as you know, biochar is a product from biomass or biowaste. So, it can relate to my previous blogs.


So, what is biochar?


A few years ago, when I did biodiesel and biogas projects from a palm oil plantation, I knew that solid waste (from the shell) could be converted into biochar. But, I didn't know the benefits of biochar. Last year, after finishing some LANDMARC meetings, we had a meeting with one of our partners: CIAT - CGIAR (International Center for Tropical Agriculture). They have a case study in Vietnam. They are working on sustainable coffee and pepper production in Vietnam. We discussed biochar and how its implementation in our countries (Indonesia and Vietnam) during the meeting. If you are working on the following renewable energy issues, there are several webinars, discussions, and papers to compare the renewable energy achievement in both countries. So, case study comparison will be interesting.


After that meeting, I started to read the advantages and disadvantages of biochar. Basically, biochar technology is not a new thing in Indonesia. People use bio charcoal from woods for a long time. So, what kind of current technology that people study or implement?


Biochar


Biochar is a porous or charcoal substance called charcoal or agrichar. Biochar is also called biological charcoal. Biochar is charcoal due to combustion (pyrolysis) without oxygen or low temperature <700 ° C. Biochar derived from agricultural, plantation, livestock and forestry residues/waste. The biochar process consists of the carbonation process of raw materials, and the activation process results from the carbonization process at high temperatures. The carbonation process breaks down cellulose into carbon elements and removes the element non-carbon, which occurs at a temperature of 600 - 700 C.


There are pros and cons to biochar implementation. Biochar is implemented to give benefits to soil materials and yield production. However, some discussions said that it could increase the loss of organic carbon from humus and negatively impact soil fertility. Further discussion said that it is not a solution for climate change or one of the decarbonisation technologies.


I will be focusing on biochar advantage in this post. I will write more about discussions on biochar disadvantages next week.


In Indonesia, you can check the Indonesian Agency of Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD). They have Biochar SP 50 product for agricultural practices. Biochar is used to improve soil quality and restore degraded land. It can help to a slower decomposition process and resistance to microorganisms. In agriculture, biochar has functions to reduce soil acidity, increase nutrient availability, and bind nutrients. IAARD introduced the manufacture and application of biochar through technical guidance in several locations. Introducing the production technique to farmers is easy and inexpensive, particularly when using the Kon tiki shape. This biochar has a cone-shaped hole with an upper diameter of 150 cm and a height of 75 cm. It is simple and suitable for farmers (Bardono, 2018). When I was a teacher in Sustainable Environment Park in Melbourne, I saw this thing, but I thought it was used for building construction. I didn't think that it can produce biochar as an organic waste management process.


Kon Tiki biochar


Biochar can be applied to acidic and dry land. After using this technology, stable harvest results can be achieved. Besides, it can increase water availability in the soil, which will increase the planting intensity from once to twice per year. When applied in the transitional anaerobic-aerobic condition on the riparian wetlands, it can increase the yield production and improve grain quality. In Indonesia, biochar from agricultural or forestry waste is utilised through research or pilot project implementation. There is no massive or big scale biochar implementation. So, in the LANDMARC project, we do not include biochar in land use mitigation portfolio since we can only include 4 topics.


So, I will stop here and continue to write more discussions on biochar cons next week.


I hope you will enjoy your weekend. See you next post. Thank you!

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