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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: BIOGEOCHEMICAL PROCESSES INFLUENCING FORMATION AND STABILIZATION OF SOIL ORGANIC MATTER AND SOIL STRUCTURE Title: Review of the Pyrolysis Platform for Producing Bio-oil and Biochar: Technology, Logistics, and Potential Impacts on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Water Quality, Soil Quality, and Agricultural Productivity

Authors
item Laird, David
item Brown, Robert -
item Amonette, James -
item Lehmann, Johannes -

Submitted to: Biofuels, Bioproducts, & Biorefining (Biofpr)
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: June 17, 2009
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Pyrolysis is a relatively simple, inexpensive, and robust thermochemical technology for transforming biomass into renewable energy products, bio-oil, and biochar. Pyrolysis technology is both robust and potentially compatible with existing agriculture and forestry infrastructure. A distributed network of small pyrolysis plants would maximize the production of bioenergy and would benefit rural economies. Bio-oil can be used as a fuel in existing industrial boilers, but would require the development of new refining technology before it could be used as a feedstock for transportation fuels. Biochar can be used by existing industries as a replacement for pulverized coal; however, the alternative use of biochar as a soil amendment results in significant environmental and agronomic benefits, including reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses, increasing crop yields, and improving soil and water quality. This review will help researchers who need a summary of current knowledge on the pyrolysis platform for producing bioenergy and will help policy makers to better understand the advantages, potential problems, and research needs of the pyrolysis platform.

Technical Abstract: Pyrolysis is a relatively simple, inexpensive, and robust thermochemical technology for transforming biomass into bio-oil, biochar, and syngas. The robust nature of the pyrolysis technology, which allows considerable flexibility in both the type and quality of the biomass feedstock, combined with a distributed network of small pyrolysis plants would maximize utilization of available biomass resources and would be compatible with existing agriculture and forestry infrastructure. Bio-oil can be used as a fuel in existing industrial boilers. Biochar can be used with existing infrastructure as a replacement for pulverized coal; however, the alternative use of biochar as a soil amendment results in significant environmental and agronomic benefits. Soil application of biochar is an effective means of sequestering large amounts of C and may have other greenhouse gas benefits. Preliminary reports of the impact of soil biochar applications on crop yields for temperate regions are variable and indicate that biochar quality is very important. Biochar is also an effective adsorbent for both nutrients and organic contaminants, hence the presence of biochar in soils has been shown to improve water quality in column leaching and field lysimeter studies and it is anticipated to do the same for agricultural watersheds. The pyrolysis platform for producing bio-oil and biochar from biomass appears to be a practical, effective, and environmentally sustainable means of producing large quantities of renewable bioenergy while simultaneously reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. At the present time, the pyrolysis platform is economically marginal because markets for bio-oil and biochar are highly competitive. However, if the U.S. adopts a program for controlling greenhouse gases, the pyrolysis platform would be highly competitive.

Last Modified: 4/16/2014
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