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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #303321

Research Project: Improving Chemical, Physical, and Biological Properties of Degraded Sandy Soils for Environmentally Sustainable Production

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

Title: Biochar Systems and System Fit

item Sohi, Saran - University Of Edinburgh
item Mcdonagh, John - University Of East Anglia
item Novak, Jeffrey - Jeff
item Wu, Weixiang - Zhejiang University
item Miu, Luciana-maria - University Of Edinburgh

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/12/2014
Publication Date: 1/29/2015
Citation: Sohi, S., McDonagh, J., Novak, J.M., Wu, W., Miu, L. 2015. Biochar Systems and System Fit. In: Lehmann, J., Joseph, S. editors. Biochar for Environmental Management: Science, Technology and Implementatiion. 2nd edition. London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group. p. 737-761.

Interpretive Summary: Biochars have gained global attention as a soil amendment because of its multi-functional role for improving soil carbon sequestration, increasing fertility and soil moisture retention. In fact, there are thousands of research articles that have demonstrated a technical understanding of biochar performance. However, these reports have used biochars produced on a small scale. In spite of the existence of many large-scale commercial biochar production facilities, these plants have not produced a profit. There is a need of a systems approach whereby the economics of biochar production can be maximized. For the purpose, we offer two distinct aspects whereby a biophysical and socioeconomic model can integrate biochar usage in agricultural systems. The biophysical model calls for a connection between waste management and the farming system and the socioeconomic model is directed to integrate labor, wealth and energy needs for biochar production. Thus, commercial interests have choices of models for maximizing biochar into agricultural systems while also producing a profit.

Technical Abstract: Biochars role as a soil amendment has been well investigated. Despite the technical understanding of biochar gained over the past five years, biochar is not yet produced commercially in a large quantity in a manner that has gained a profit. There are examples of unprofitable biochar production, but the main purpose of this chapter is to explore how a systems perspective could establish conditions where biochar might be more widely adopted. Within this context, we offer two distinct aspects to be considered and eventually integrated into a biophysical and socioeconomic model that increases biochar usage in agricultural systems. We offer that the scale and sophistication of a biochar system to amply demonstrate its multi-functional role is dependent on biomass accessibility, conversion pathways, and use phases and that its production at profitable scales is indeed possible.