Biochar Facility

Biochar plant at Lysterfield

What is biochar?

A biochar facility will commence operations at Lysterfield Waste Transfer Site late-2023.

The biochar produced will be available for sale to farmers, horticulturalists and home gardeners.

Biochar is a form of charcoal for addition to soil providing many benefits including:

  • Improved soil structure
  • Improved soil water-holding capacity
  • Increased crop yields
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions

By making biochar from woody waste and other plant material, we are stabilising carbon that was absorbed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis when the plants were growing.

By adding biochar to soil, this carbon is locked up long-term, preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas while improving the soil.

The process of plants capturing carbon during their growth and then locking the carbon up as biochar in soil can be used as a carbon draw-down mechanism to mitigate climate change.

How is biochar made?

Biochar at the Lysterfield facility will be made from woody materials such as chipped prunings and fallen branches.

The process of turning woody materials into biochar is known as pyrolysis, which has been traditionally used to make charcoal. During pyrolysis, the organic material is heated in an oxygen-limited environment up to 500 °C . This removes volatile gaseous and liquid components while stable carbon remains in form of biochar.

After a short initial heating period that requires external energy, pyrolysis is a self-sustaining process that releases more energy as heat than it uses (exothermic reaction). This excess heat is being used to pre-dry wood chips for a clean and efficient pyrolysis process. In the future, we plan to convert some of the excess heat into electricity to export to the grid.

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Biochar FAQs

What is biochar?

Biochar is a carbon-rich solid made from organic waste such as tree prunings or agricultural waste. The waste organics, also called feedstock, are heated in an oxygen-limited environment at high temperatures. This process is known as pyrolysis.

What can biochar be used for?

Biochar can be used to enhance growing conditions for plants in poor soils by improving soil structure, nutrient and water retention, and fertiliser efficiency. For instance, Council may use biochar for street tree plantings in poor and compacted roadside soils. Additionally, biochar can be used by farmers and gardeners to increase soil carbon, reduce irrigation and fertiliser demand, and increase microbial life in soils with associated benefits for better plant growth and climate change mitigation.

What are the benefits of biochar?

There are numerous benefits in converting organic waste into biochar for use as a soil amendment. 

Soil improvement - Biochar can improve poor and degraded soils with significant improvements to plant growth, crop yield and soil health.

Carbon draw-down - Biochar made from woody waste and other plant material stabilises the carbon that the plants absorbed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. By adding biochar to soil, this stabilised carbon is locked up long-term, preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. The process of plants capturing carbon during their growth and then locking the carbon up as biochar in soil can be used as a carbon draw-down mechanism to mitigate climate change, as identified by the IPCC scientists in their recent report (IPCC report).

Air-quality improvement- In plantation forestry, large amounts of woody waste are regularly burnt off after thinning or harvesting trees. By converting this waste material into biochar through controlled pyrolysis, poor air quality caused by the smoke from open fires can be avoided and the contained carbon in the woody biomass can be retained as a valuable soil enhancer benefiting our environment.

Economic benefits - Biochar and other by-products of pyrolysis (i.e,, Syngas or Wood Vinegar) are valuable products that can provide revenue from waste streams. Additionally, long-term sequestration of carbon as biochar in soils is recognised as a carbon offset mechanism and can be traded as carbon credits purchasable by public and private entities to offset green house gas emissions.   

Renewable energy - The pyrolysis of organic matter into biochar and its by-products is an exothermic reaction, meaning that it produces usable excess heat. For the Lysterfield plant, the excess heat is used to dry the feedstock material to ensure a clean and efficient pyrolysis process in the first instance. However, in the long-term we will explore opportunities to also convert part of the excess heat into electricity for running the plant and to supply electricity to the grid.

An excellent summary of further reaching benefits of biochar and future industry direction can be found in the ANZBI (Australian New Zealand Biochar Initiative) Roadmap.


Why is Council establishing a biochar facility?

Yarra Ranges Council is committed to implement innovative solutions that help mitigate and adapt to the negative impacts of climate change on our community and the pristine environment we all share.

Council’s Liveable Climate Plan and the accompanying Action Plan outline Council’s endorsed path towards net-zero emissions by 2040. A key action is the establishment of the Biochar Facility (Action 1.2 - Biomass Carbon Capture Facility).

Taking woody material out of the waste stream and converting it to biochar not only prevents the carbon stored in the wood to be emitted as greenhouse gas but provides a mechanism to actively draw-down carbon from the atmosphere. Furthermore, adding biochar to soils increases their water retention that can be used by plants during periods of drought. This can make farming, horticulture and roadside plantings more drought resilient, actively cools the surrounding areas, and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in the Yarra Ranges and beyond.

How much biochar is expected to be produced?

It is expected that approximately 1000m3 of biochar can be produced each year. This amount is enough to regenerate about 11 hectares (approx. 6 MCG's) of degraded farmland with an average of 2% carbon content back to pre-colonialisation levels of 5% carbon content, every year.

What emissions are produced from the biochar facility?

Emissions are extremely low and are within EPA guidelines.

Will there be any odour from the facility?

No, there will not be any odours from the biochar facility.

What noise is produced by the biochar facility?

The noise from plant and machinery is not expected to be noticeable outside the Waste Transfer Station.

What hours will the biochar facility be operating?

Normal operating hours will be from 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday. It is not expected that the facility will be in operation during the weekend though Council reserves the right to allow weekend operation in accordance with the current permissible operating hours of the Waste Transfer Station.

How many truckloads per day are expected to the biochar facility?

It is expected that there will be approximately two truckloads per day, bringing in woody material to the site.


Can I bring my own woody prunings to the Biochar Facility?

No, not in the initial stages of operation. As this is a novel technology, we are fine-tuning the pyrolysis process and rely on tree maintenance operators to provide a consistent quality of chipped woody biomass. However, in the future we plan to extend the biochar facility with a pyrolysis unit capable of converting unchipped woody material into biochar which will enable public drop-off of woody prunings.

Will there be a need to remove any vegetation to set up the biochar site?

No.

How is this biochar facility being funded?

This initiative is funded by $500,000 from the State Government’s Growing Suburbs Fund and Council matching this.

Why was the Lysterfield site chosen for this facility?

The Lysterfield Resource Recovery Centre (Waste Transfer Station) is strategically located at Wellington Road on the intersect between local government areas of Yarra Ranges Shire, City of Knox, City of Casey and Cardinia Shire, and in proximity of the Monash Freeway (M1). This ensures easy access for trucks to drop off feedstock without the need for detours which would cause more traffic and greater carbon emissions.


 

Contact

For more information on the Biochar facility please contact the Tom Jenkins or Joerg Werdin via 1300 368 333 or mail@yarraranges.vic.gov.au.