Biochar to enrich soil, reduce climate impacts

Published on 15 November 2021

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Council will open a biochar facility by October 2022, producing charcoal by heating biomass in the absence of oxygen. This material can be applied to the soil of farm lands to improve nutrient and moisture availability.

Biochar is produced using a proven technology, pyrolysis where the biomass feedstock such as branches are converted to carbon-rich materials (charcoal). The process is carbon positive removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere, playing a key role in mitigating emissions while assisting farmers adapt to a drier climate.

Lyster Ward Councillor, Deputy Mayor Johanna Skelton, said that a new facility will be housed at the Lysterfield Waste Transfer Station, processing woody debris from Council and local tree contractors.

“Our residents will know – particularly after the last year – that we have a lot of woody debris from the many trees lost in recent storms throughout Yarra Ranges,” she said.

“Anything Council and community members can do to reduce open–air burning for the purpose of disposal should be considered.

“The open-air burning that is currently used by Council to dispose of some woody material is bad for air quality and releases carbon into the atmosphere. We will still use mulch across Council parks and bushland, but we also have to consider that mulch releases carbon dioxide quite quickly into the atmosphere.

“Turning some of this material into biochar will create a high-value product that locks up carbon dioxide for a thousands of years and will benefit our fragile soil – it could even potentially be fed to cattle to reduce methane emissions!

Biochar technology has been used by Aboriginal people in this country and elsewhere, and research on ancient sites is benefitting us all today by increasing our understanding about its long-term benefits.”

“This biochar facility will help us meet our Council’s goals of net zero emissions by 2040 and 100 per cent renewable energy use by 2030 – a future upgrade to this facility could see the heat energy produced from making biochar converted into electricity.

“The material produced can be used in Council tree planting projects, on local farms and gardens to enhance soil nutrients and moisture, all while removing carbon from the atmosphere.

“I’m excited about the possibilities that will open up for us once this facility has been established, and the role that biochar has to play in buying us time during the climate crisis.”

The biochar facility has been funded with $500,000 from the State Government’s Growing Suburbs Fund, with Council providing the remainder of the project costs.

The location of Lysterfield was chosen because of existing waste operations on a Council-owned site, with proximity to Knox and Cardinia Councils and a three-phase electricity supply.

Council has awarded a contract to Melbourne based Earth Systems to supply the plant, which is currently under construction in a factory in the northern suburbs. Early 2022 will see the Lysterfield site prepared for the installation of the biochar facility, expected for August, with commissioning by October 2022.

For more information on the facility – including frequently asked questions and a recording of a recent biochar webinar – visit yarraranges.vic.gov.au/biochar

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