Skip to main content
ARS Home » Southeast Area » Dawson, Georgia » National Peanut Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #350509

Research Project: Enhancing the Competitiveness of U.S. Peanuts and Peanut-based Cropping Systems

Location: National Peanut Research Laboratory

Title: Return on investment from biochar application

Author
item Sorensen, Ronald - Ron
item Lamb, Marshall

Submitted to: Crop, Forage & Turfgrass Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/5/2018
Publication Date: 8/27/2018
Citation: Sorensen, R.B., Lamb, M.C. 2018. Return on investment from biochar application. Crop, Forage & Turfgrass Management. https://doi.org/doi:10.2134/cftm2018.02.0008.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.2134/cftm2018.02.0008

Interpretive Summary: Biochar is a “waste carbon” product of pyrolysis of an “organic” feedstock type material to provide energy (syngas). The application of biochar to agricultural soil may sequester carbon removing CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Biochar is very stable and will not decompose further to carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. From an environmental aspect, the application of the waste biochar in agricultural settings can be a benefit to large corporations who wish to offset the production of CO2 by purchasing carbon credits by paying growers to sequester carbon in the form of biochar. Application of biochar to soil is hypothesized to increase plant available water along with a host of other positive soil quality improvements related to nutrient cycling, water movement, and chemistry. Research has documented crop response to biochar applications, use of biochar as a soil amendment, and addresses a wide range of topics ranging from historical perspectives, biochar processing systems, soil physical and chemical responses as well as plant responses in various locations and soil types. Current literature has yet to address the cost of biochar application or the return on investment the grower would need to apply biochar. Major expenses would include initial cost of the biochar material, transportation to the field location, equipment costs for in-field handling, and field application of the material. This manuscript will only focus on farm-level economics specifically on-farm handling, application, and economic return needed by the grower to apply biochar. The objectives of this manuscript were to identify on-farm expenses and rate of return need for growers to apply biochar at 0, 10, 20, 40, and 60 tons ac-1. The actual cost for biochar and transportation to the research site was $150 and $2100 ton-1, respectively. Using the cost of purchase and transportation to the research site was $290 ton-1 which is much lower than the average value described by others. Whether a spreader is rented or owned, the number of trips to apply a given amount of biochar per size of spreader is a known value. It would take at least 11 loads using the smallest spreader to apply the least biochar rate and over 65 loads at the highest biochar rate. The largest spreader (manure) would take less than one load at the lowest biochar rate and just under five loads at the highest biochar rate. It is assumed with each application cost technique evaluated, the base fee would cover purchase cost, rental fee, tractor fuel, and/or maintenance of the spreader. These expenses do not take into account costs associated with the labor to load, spread, and return for another load. They also do not take into account any extra equipment needed to load the spreaders, maintenance, or labor associated with loading the spreader. The most efficient way to apply biochar would be to pay by mass using the largest spreader available. The use of smaller spreader type equipment increases application cost especially for loading time and personnel labor expenses. Overall, the expense to spread biochar can be widely variable depending on type and size of spreaders that may be available to the grower. More information and research is needed on the cost to apply biochar with equipment not associated with agriculture such as large dump truck, belly dump, or road grading type equipment. It is assumed with each application cost technique evaluated, the base fee would cover purchase cost, rental fee, tractor fuel, and/or maintenance of the spreader. These expenses do not take into account costs associated with the labor to load, spread, and return for another load. They also do not take into account any extra equipment needed to load the spreaders, maintenance, or labor associated with loading the spreader. The major costs associated with actual biochar purchase and transportation. The initial cost

Technical Abstract: Current literature has yet to fully address the cost of biochar application or the return on investment to the grower. The objectives were to identify possible on-farm spreader equipment, spreader capacity, application expenses, and rate of return needed for growers to apply biochar economically. Biochar from Red Oak (hardwood) processed using fast pyrolysis with a density of 36.5 lbs ft-3 was used in all scenarios. Possible spinner spreader volumes ranged from 50 to 255 ft3 and a manure spreader with a volume of 720 ft3. Crop response to increased biochar is not consistent, either positive or negative, thus, the return on investment may only be dependent on producer incentives. Possible application cost techniques investigated were by density ($ ft-3), by the load ($ load-1), or by mass ($ ton-1). The actual cost to purchase and transport biochar to the field location was $290 ton-1. The estimated total number of loads required to apply biochar ranged from 1 to 66 loads depending on spreader volume and biochar rate. Application expenses for these three application techniques ranged from $2900 to $17926 ac-1. The most economical and efficient application technique would be to pay by “mass” using the largest volume spreader. Across all spreader volumes and biochar rates, the required payments to achieve a 7% return on investment ranged from $427 to $2,589 ac-1 yr-1 for 10 years. This equates to $18 to $33 ton-1 ac-1 yr-1 of sequestered CO2 over 10 years at 80 and 60% carbon to CO2 efficiency, respectively.