A working group committed to building viable biochar industries will meet on the Gold Coast next week for the second Australia New Zealand Biochar Conference 2018 (ANZBC18).
Farmers, foresters, biochar producers, academics, scientists, policy makers, industry professionals and entrepreneurs will come together for the industry-led conference to be held at Southern Cross University Gold Coast campus from August 14 to 16.
Southern Cross University’s Graham Lancaster, who has managed the University’s Environmental Analysis Laboratory for more than 25 years, will bring his expertise to the conference stage. He says biochar – made through a process called pyrolysis where biomass is heated to temperatures around 450 degrees C without oxygen – is a proven beneficial soil additive.
As an environmental chemist, Mr Lancaster says there are numerous benefits to using biochar in farming, though he warns about the danger of poor quality control of the imported product.
Biochar is recognised as offering a number of benefits for soil health, with many benefits related to its extremely porous nature. The structure is found to be very effective at retaining both water and water-soluble nutrients and acting as a habitat for beneficial soil micro-organisms.
“There is a huge market for using this burnt organic matter product directly in agriculture, and even using it in fodder supplements for cattle, who actually love it. Livestock tend to eat charcoal readily and it has many health benefits such as balancing gut flora, and biochar is becoming increasingly popular in organic farming as a component of compost because it enhances soil productivity,” Mr Lancaster said.
“In the soil, biochar is a very good product for carbon sequestration. It can be used with fertiliser applications to help bind fertiliser into the soil and it doesn’t leach into waterways.
“Biochar is becoming increasingly popular among famers in the Northern NSW region, who see it as logical, compact, easy-to-use, and with a lot of benefits, however cost is often a barrier. Trial pyrolysis units are common in this region so production cost and hence biochar cost is expected to significantly reduce over time.
“The other issue that arises is quality control because basically anything can be made into a biochar-like substance, including all sorts of waste products, or it can be inferior due to the presence of contaminants such as heavy metals. There are quality risks to be cautious of particularly for unsuspecting farmers who have had instances where the product they bought was inferior or wasn’t biochar at all.”
Mr Lancaster said farmers can either request proof of quality of product be supplied on purchase, can have their biochar tested, or can experiment with making their own.
“The Environmental Analysis Laboratory, which is a commercial and research support arm of Southern Cross University, offers biochar testing for our clients and advice regarding the production of biochar. We talk with farmers about it all the time and we want to ensure quality control is there and eliminate any negative impacts,” he said.
Mr Lancaster said the conference would enable better understanding of what makes a biochar business model viable economically, environmentally and socially, connecting biomass producers with biochar producers.
Southern Cross University biogeochemist and research fellow Dr Shane McIntosh, and Dr Terry Rose from the University’s Centre for Organics Research will also present at the Australia New Zealand Biochar Conference 2018 (ANZBC18) at Southern Cross University Gold Coast campus in Bilinga.
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