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‘Enhanced’ biochar R&D required in Ireland

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Enhanced R&D is required on biochar for its full potential to be realised, according to the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA).

The organisation described biochar production and use as an ‘emerging opportunity’ that must be embraced for its full benefit to be realised in addressing a series of challenges across many sectors in Ireland.

Biochar could benefit the forestry, agricultural and environmental sectors as a soil remediator, slow-release fertiliser, filtration medium, animal feed additive, potential peat replacement and as a carbon sink, for example.

It can be produced from indigenous biomass including food processing waste, woody biomass, fibrous grassy material or from a variety of sludges or manures. Biochar production is accessible at many scales and equipment can vary in size and complexity, depending on the output required.

“While levels of research into biochar and its various applications are increasing, much more is needed for its widescale production and use to be realised,” said Stephen McCormack, project executive at IrBEA.

“We call on national authorities, research and funding bodies to take this opportunity seriously by providing greatly enhanced funding and resources to further explore and understand biochar’s uses and applications in an Irish context.”

Sean Finan, CEO of IrBEA, added: “Biochar production can play a part in many sectors and also in the provision of renewable heat. In the thermal conversion, through pyrolysis of biomass to biochar, you end up with a valuable solid product in the biochar, but also a useable source of renewable heat. The phase combined heat and biochar has been used to describe this set up and needs to be developed further.”

IrBEA and several of its members have been involved in biochar for several years. Biochar is now commercially available in Ireland.

“IrBEA has shown leadership through projects such as the current Interreg-funded THREE C project,” said McCormack. “We have been engaging with those involved in the R&D of this sector, not only here, but across Europe.

“Ireland has a growing number of biochar producers and end users. The appetite strongly exists for enhanced R&D to facilitate the further growth of the sector. It is an interesting time to be involved in the biochar space.

“IrBEA is open to working with those interested in collaboration for the development of the sector here in Ireland on behalf of our members.”