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.