Friday, 23 December 2011

Malaysia Biomass Strategy

Recent press announcements here in Malaysia have focused on biomass utilisation...
Neither article specifically mentions biochar but the first does describe support for companies involved in biocarbon production and export. Biochar still languishes as a low profile research subject in most of SEA.

The 2nd article discusses  the National Biomass Strategy 2020. This strategy describes utilising an additional 20MillionT of oil palm industry biomass by 2020 for higher value activities. The document does acknowledge the importance of biomass nutrients for the plantations... "Biomass should not be removed from the field without consideration of its nutrient value and protection to the top soil. However there is the potential to retain in the field the portion of the biomass that has the highest nutrient value but the lowest downstream value, as represented by its carbohydrate content, and replace the balance with inorganic substitutes."

Biochar production and utilisation within the plantation could provide new options and additional flexibility for the proposed strategy...
  • The organic carbon currently provided by the retention and/or return of biomass to plantation soils is very transient in the tropical conditions. It will be consumed on an annual basis along with the regular application of organic or inorganic fertilizers. Biochar offers a 'permanent' organic carbon addition, potentially freeing up more biomass for alternative uses.
  • Biochar will improve the nutrient use efficiency by reducing NPK leaching losses and soil gas emissions (CO2, methane & nitrous oxide). 
  • The reduced requirements for fertilizers and their improved retention in the soil will reduce pollution of water tables, streams, rivers and catchments.
  • Biochar positive effects on plant growth, health and productivity are well documented. There is reason to believe that these benefits will also translate into benefits for the oil palm - particularly for tropical soils.
  • Biochar has proven soil remediation benefits (for both organic & inorganic contaminates). Soils damaged by mining or contaminated by industry may be put back into service. Agriculture on bris soils may be improved.
  • New products and industries can be established that relate to the soil amendments, animal feeds, waste management, building products, green roofs, urban water gardens & swales.
  • Pyrolysis systems offer localized processing solutions for 'thinly distributed biomass'. Transport and infrastructure costs often kill large biomass projects. Pyrolysis is scalable for source locations such as palm oil mills or mobile plantation processing.
  • New 'slow' pyrolysis technology offers multiple product streams, 
    • carbon (biochar, bio-coal, torrified fuels, charcoal, activated carbon, industrial carbon, super-capacitors)
    • bio-oil (boiler fuel oil, refining for chemicals & transport fuels, organic pesticides and plant foliate) 
    • pyrolysis gas (process heating, renewable energy production, advanced gas reprocessing, fuel cells)
    • process heat
    • carbon credits (carbon sequestration and emissions reduction).
Lets hope the new Biomass Strategy has room to accommodate new opportunities that will present, as the biochar industry develops in SEA. More research investment from government and industry would greatly accelerate access to these opportunities.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Invitation to speak on biochar

I have accepted an invitation to speak on biochar at a biomass conference in May 2012. Details are still to be finalized but I look forward to meeting local biochar enthusiasts during the conference.

EU-Asia Biomass Best Practices & Business Partnering Conference 2012, 
7 – 10 May 2012, Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Proposed topic
Biochar Production Technologies and Market Opportunities
9 May 2012
09.30am - 10.00am
Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), Kuala Lumpur

This initiative comprises of International Conference, Business Match-Making Event, Business Exhibition and Workshops.  The project aims to improve the competitiveness of biomass companies in both the European (EU) and Asian regions via trade and investment, joint venture, technology transfer and cooperation, sharing of best practices and know-how transfer within the key priority sectors of biomass industry especially those involved in bioenergy, biofertilisers/agricultural products, high value chemicals, and eco-products. We are expecting 400-500 participants to attend this auspicious event.
A link to the conference site can be found here...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Biochar activity in Thailand

UBI Siam: Low tech biochar in Thai sustainable rural development & climate change mitigation

UB International (UBI) is a program dedicated to testing the concept that thinly distributed feedstock can be utilized to significantly contribute to timely global climate change mitigation through low tech biochar production in sustainable rural development amongst small scale farmers, herders and forestry workers and hopes to develop a network of sib-projects to first ground truth the concept and then begin an exponential increase of participating communities through a communities-mentoring-communities program.

"Biochar from thinly distributed feedstock for sustainable rural development and timely climate change mitigation is a new field in Thailand and we welcome interested researchers, community developers, volunteers and funders to work with us in developing an informal consortium of NGOs, Universities, communities and individuals interested in contributing towards these goals at these sites or other promising locations.

For more information see also the UB International webpage or contact Karl Frogner (UBI)."
The full IBI report can be found here...

Biochar research from Indonesia on cassava cropping systems

The following paper has been published in the Journal of Tropical Agriculture 49 (1-2) : 40-46, 2011

Biochar for sustaining productivity of cassava based cropping systems in the degraded lands of East Java, Indonesia
Titiek Islami1*, Bambang Guritno2, Nur Basuki2, and Agus Suryanto1
1Department of Agronomy, Brawijaya University, Malang, Indonesia; 2Research Centre for Tuber and Root Crops,
Brawijaya University, Malang, Indonesia.
Field experiments were carried out to explore the beneficial effects of biochar on the productivity of cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) based cropping system in the degraded uplands of East Java, Indonesia from September 2009 to May 2011. Two cropping systems namely cassava + maize (Zea mays L.) and cassava + peanuts (Arachis hypogaea L.) and five organic amendments, namely farm yard manure (FYM) applied once at the start of the experiment, FYM applied every year, biochar from FYM, biochar from cassava stem, and no FYM as control were evaluated. With no FYM addition, yield of cassava and maize during the succeeding year declined from 17.1 to 13.7 Mg ha–1 and from 3.6 to 2.7 Mg ha–1 respectively. Organic amendments improved soil fertility and crop yields. For cassava + maize intercropping, the beneficial effects of FYM (20 Mg ha–1), however, lasted for only one year; nonetheless for cassava + peanut intercropping it persisted for two years. Increases in cassava and maize yield following biochar application (15 Mg ha–1), however, continued for two years after planting, implying its potential for sustaining crop production over longer periods. Soil organic matter content in the FYM treatment also was high for a year, whereas in the biochar treatment it remained high well after the harvest of the second year cassava crop (20.3 to 25.8 g kg–1 soil C as against 10.3 to 11.2 g kg–1 for treatments without organic amendments), implying the profound potential of biochar for soil carbon sequestration owing to its recalcitrant nature.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Biocarbon Tracker
"Biocarbon is the carbon absorbed by plants through photosynthesis and stored in their biomass and soils. Maintaining stores of biocarbon is important for minimising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

BioCarbon Tracker uses satellite data and advanced methods to map the ecosystems where biocarbon is stored, identify vegetation at risk from land use change and monitor where high biocarbon stock land such as forest is converted to agriculture.

It is a free service provided by Greenergy in association with Ecometrica, the University of Edinburgh and the UK’s National Centre for Earth Observation."

Monday, 17 October 2011

Biochar Activity in Cambodia

The potential benefits of biochar for Cambodia

Micheal Horton gives a 10min presentation which introduces biochar and discusses its production and use in Cambodia. The focus is on rice husk as biomass and either stoves or Ankor gasifiers for production.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Biochar Project Registration: Help IBI help you!

Date: Thu, 09/29/2011
Contributor: Thayer Tomlinson
Are you starting a biochar production company? Are you a researcher looking for funding? Are you a teacher wanting to network with other schools doing biochar science projects? Are you a philanthropist or investor looking for interesting projects? The IBI Project Registry is for you!
IBI staff members get requests for information and help every day. Being in at the center of this information flow has allowed us to help a number of projects get connected to resources and partners, like the National Geographic funding opportunity. Help us connect your project to others by letting us know about your work and your needs. We invite you to fill out the IBI Biochar Project Registration form online:

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Regional Haze issue: Slash & Char solution?

By coincidence, two separate stories have appeared on the regional haze issue today, each with a different take on the problem...

Why Indonesia cannot stop the fires and haze (Star Online, Dr Francis Ng)

It would be interesting debate the different reasons high-lighted by these two pictures... maybe they are both correct in their location and context. And maybe there are other issues that could be included in this discussion.

But maybe traditional (?) shifting agriculture can be improved through biochar. It would be great to see a pilot village scale research program based around small scale pyrolysis of this annual biomass removal ritual. Dr Christoph Steiner proposed a Slash & Char solution as part of his doctoral studies. He has expressed interest in the past, on collaborating in a SEA research program. Interest in this probably needs to be taken up by a NGO.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Charcoal cold room in Kenya

Wes Graff at South Asia Biomass in Singapore, sent me this photo of a charcoal cool room in the Kenya bush based on evaporative cooling.

I can imagine many interesting applications for similar designs. I see a lot of day shelters in the fields and plantations in SEA.  Maybe this could be adapted using bamboo & other weave material to create a cool day shelter.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Malaysia Agro 2011 - Biochar presentation

Dr Robert Bachmann will be a guest speaker at MY AGRO with a presentation titled, "Production of Biochar to balance the carbon footprint for Agriculture".  This free, one day event will take place at MATRADE on Wednesday, 21 September 2011with Dr Bachmann's presentation scheduled for 9:30AM.
"The first edition of Malaysia Agro 2011 (MY AGRO 2011) is set to be the new benchmark in the agriculture and agro-based industry of Malaysia. Showcasing some of the latest product findings and technology, MY AGRO 2011 is expected to feature approximately 4,000sqm of exhibits, from local and international exhibitors. ..."

Monday, 22 August 2011

Feebates - Sam Carana's vision for a sustainable economy

"Feebates are the most effective way to facilitate the shift towards a sustainable economy"

"Feebates are proposed to facilitate a shift away from fossil fuel toward clean energy. Furthermore, fees are proposed on livestock products, nitrogen fertilizers, Portland cement and similar products with high emissions, to finance rebates on methods that can remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, such as biochar burial and olivine grinding..."

Friday, 19 August 2011

IBI August Newletter - draft BIG-SEA contribution

SEA August Report

Biochar Activities in Singapore

Research interest from a number of groups in Singapore and Malaysia has led to an order being placed with BlackEarth in Australia for a 20ft container of biochar. The importation work is being led by Uniseal in Singapore, who are planning to undertake green-roof and other trials on biochar. BSL undertook the initial coordination for this initiative which also includes the research arm of the Singapore Parks Department (CUGE) and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).
Report from CUGE
The Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE) Division of Singapore National Parks Board has initiated research using biochar for urban soil improvement. Dr. Subhadip Ghosh, a researcher from CUGE has undertaken some initial trials using commercial charcoal on different types of soil-based root zone mixes typically used for turf grass and rooftop application and the results indicated that application of charcoal significantly increased the organic matter content and nutrient status of the soils. CUGE will conduct further research on efficacy of biochar for restoring soil quality for the growth of trees and grasses. These studies will determine whether biochar can replace sand in the growing media such as ASM (Approved Soil Mix). These studies will help to identify appropriate application rates and economic feasibility of applying biochar as an urban soil amendment compared to other materials currently being used.
Uniseal Singapore Pte Ltd
Uniseal will undertake a number of research activities based around the importation of biochar from Australia, focusing on the following initial work:
  1)  To research on the performance of Biochar application on green roofs to determine the effects of plant growth, carbon sequestration and stormwater water quality after infiltrating through the green roofs. 
  2)  To research on the performance of Biochar application on Bio-swales and Bio-retention basins (rain gardens) to determine the effectiveness of removing pollutants (eg. hydrocarbons) from the stormwater.

Biochar Activities in Malaysia
Two Cambodian students, Bona Moung and Piseth Yu, have completed their 5 months placement with UniKL MICET, and are set to return home to Phom Phen to continue their studies with the Royal University of Agriculture. The students had a very productive time investigating the heat transfer efficiency, specific PM10 emission and biochar yield from EFB pellets and coconut shells using Paul Anderson's TLUD, Crisipin Pendecott's VESTO, a traditional Malaysian clay stove and the three stone fire. In addition the biochar produced was characterised physico-chemically. Bona and Piseth will take back the biochar for pot assay testing early next year. A farewell BBQ was organised using the cooking stoves to prepare the food. That was fun!
While we were sad to see Bona and Moung go we are cheered by the arrival of our first international PhD student from Uganda, Nsamba Hussein Kisiki. He'll be working with Dr Robert Bachmann from UniKL MICET, Prof. Gerard Cornelissen and Dr Sarah Hale from NGI (Norway) on biochar.
Universiti Putra Malysia 
Universiti Putra Malysia, Serdang, are actively conducting research on biochar. The Faculty of Engineering is working on pyrolysis methods for different feedstock and we at the Faculty of Agriculture are carrying out  experiments in the glasshouse and field on the application of the biochars (oil palm empty fruit bunch biochar and rice husk biochar) for cultivation of vegetable and field crop (maize and rice), as M.Sc. and Ph.D. projects. We are excited by the results that we are getting seems promising. We have participated in a few exhibitions to create awareness about biochar and its role for crop production and mitigation of climate change.
Work continues on the BEK research program at MPOB, first reported in the May11 newsletter.  The construction of a new house for the BEK was completed, which is spacious enough to accommodate the BEK this time around. A few batches of the feedstock have been run through since then, and some minor modification on the BEK are needed to optimize the performance of the unit (Suggestions and advices from other BEK’s user will be very helpful). Some properties of the biochar produced have been analyzed, and the results are reported in the extended abstract submitted to APBC 2011. Kong (the student/author) is going to present the poster on his work on this, and he is currently looking for sponsorship or travelling grant offered to students/young scientists to fund his trip to Kyoto this September. Any suggestions or advice in this regard would be most appreciated.

Friday, 12 August 2011

ADB Job Opportunity: Biomass and Biochar Technology Specialist

This follows on from the recent ADB announcement covered in my earlier post...

"The subject regional capacity development technical assistance (R-CDTA) aims to improve utilization of biomass in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam (CLV). This will be achieved through: (i) harmonization of sustainable standards, certification systems, and other mechanisms to enhance regional cooperation on bioenergy development with food security ensured; (ii) implementation of pilot projects to demonstrate mechanisms for scaling up biomass investment projects for bioenergy or food security; (iii) capacity-building support for project stakeholders; and (iv) knowledge products and awareness campaign. The mechanisms for scaling up demonstrated under the R-CDTA are expected to lead to ensuing ADB investment projects in Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam" 

"The specialist will be in charge of:
  1. review biomass availability, including seasonality, pricing, quality, and competing demand (if any) and the biomass and charcoal briquetting sector, and logistics issues surrounding feedstock supply for small-sized projects;
  2. design and conduct a beneficiary needs assessment of traditional biomass, feedstock, and charcoal briquetting supply agents and benefit streams, and conduct a comparative analysis of various biomass conversion technologies, including financing models, delivery mechanisms, and program modalities (e.g., compost making, biochar);
  3. provide benchmarks for technical performance and carbon credit potentials;
  4. develop a framework for the application of these technologies, including aspects related to institutional needs, financing needs, and information, awareness, and capacity-building needs, and conduct gender-sensitive capacity-building activities;
  5. conduct gender-sensitive capacity-building activities and interventions; and
  6. design a biomass conversion pilot project for composting, biochar, etc., where deemed appropriate."
  • Extensive knowledge about biomass and biochar use for bioenergy, including the charcoal briquetting sector and various conversion technologies
  • Technical Background
  • Knowledge about the existing biomass use initiatives in GMS region as well as the existing institutional framework in GMS countries
  • Experience in design of biomass conversion pilot projects is an advantage
  • Experienced in capacity building activities on biomass and biochar
  • Previous work experience within international donors funded projects
  • Previous work experience on ADB funded projects is an advantage
  • His/her experience should include assignments in Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam.
  • Citizenship of one of ADB’s member countries is obligatory! (see"

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Big Biochar Experiment

Oxford Biochar is sponsoring a giant experiment to test the effectiveness of Biochar in standard garden plots all across Britain.

The Big Biochar Experiment

"The web site does a nice job of explaining what biochar is, and showing the benefits of adding it to your soil. Then it asks home gardeners to set up 2 plots, one a test, and one a control. Add the biochar, and record data about what types of things they added to both plots, the pest control needed and the yields from that plot are. It looks like it will do a nice job of seeing whether regular gardeners are likely to see results from biochar in the first year."

Saturday, 30 July 2011

EU-Asia Biomass Best Practices & Business Partnering Conference May 2012, Kuala Lumpur

Here is an opportunity to show-case regional biochar activities to a new audience. I have engaged with Biomass-SP and some of there funding agencies in the past. They are rather focused on biofuels... overly so from my perspective. We need to be waving the flag for a biochar and agronomic pathway for biomass.  Energy poverty in the region is also a big problem but we need to maintain a balance between future sustainable food production and future energy needs.  Pyrolysis offers this balance with a distribution of agriculture and energy benefits along with wide choices in scale and technology.

"EU-Asia Biomass Best Practices & Business Partnering Conference 2012
May 2012, Kuala Lumpur
Dear colleague,
We are pleased to announce the EU-Asia Biomass Best Practices & Business Partnering Conference 2012 – to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Conference is hosted by the EU SWITCH-Asia Biomass Sustainable Production Initiative (Biomass-SP), an EU-funded development cooperation project under the SWITCH-Asia programme led by Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), supported by the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA), in partnership with the European Biomass Industry Association (EUBIA) and Danish Technological Institute (DTI).

The 2012 Conference gives much focus on the sharing of best practices i.e. commercial, technologies, policies, investments & etc., in the biomass industry in Asia and Europe..."

The Biomass-SP website does not currently include a link to the conference details or the 'call for papers' documentation. Please let me know if you want me to forward their email to you.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

ADB agrees $4 mln grant to boost biomass use

"The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Monday it has approved a project that would help Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam scale up the use of biomass waste in agriculture to meet growing need for clean energy and food security for poor rural households"...

... "ADB said the project would fund pilot investment projects to scale up biomass technologies such as household biogas systems, biochar kilns, and improved cooking stoves. The project will also conduct studies, build human and institutional capacity on biomass investment, and promote regional exchange among the three countries." ...

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Pinoy Biochar Initiative - Philippines

Ronald Rafer Villaluz has kicked off a Philippine language biochar facebook page ...

May 2011 IBI Newsletter - SEA reports

The May IBI newsletter features 3 reports that have been covered by BIG-SEA...
Also featured is the setting up of large scale field trials in North Carolina ( It is this scale of research that is badly needed in the tropical plantation setting, to rapidly develop our understanding on the agricultural benefits that are predicted in tropical SEA with the development of a biochar industry.

Large scale field trials are being discussed and planned but are constrained by the availability of suitable biochar.  This supply constraint is one of the issues I am currently focusing on.

Report from the May 2011 IBI newsletter...

"World Bank Study of Biochar Projects in Developing Countries Nearing Completion

IBI and Cornell University have been working since October 2010 on a study of developing country biochar projects for the World Bank. The IBI network has played a critical role in the study by providing information on projects in various stages of implementation through two surveys of IBI members and subscribers. IBI wishes to thank everyone who participated in the surveys and who submitted project information. Through these efforts we have learned a great deal of valuable information about biochar feedstocks, technologies, and applications. A follow-up survey helped identify potential barriers and incentives for implementing household and village scale biochar projects in the developing world.

The final report will include a Life Cycle Assessment of four biochar projects. The report is scheduled for completion by the end of June 2011 and the World Bank plans to make it available to the public. Earlier this month, IBI presented the survey results to the World Bank at a review meeting in Washington DC, where IBI board chair, Johannes Lehmann, also presented a current summary of biochar research that will be included in the final report. Thea Whitman, from Cornell University, presented a system dynamics model used to evaluate the climate change impact of biochar cook stoves in Western Kenya, and Kelli Roberts, also from Cornell, presented preliminary results from the Life Cycle Assessment case studies that will appear in the final report. The survey data from 150 biochar projects located in 38 developing countries is available now on the IBI website at:"

My review of the SEA biochar related project development scorecard is...
Indonesia  12
Thailand     6
Vietnam     5
Philippines  4
Malaysia    4
Laos          2
Cambodia  2

The full report is due end of June - it will be very interesting to see more details about these projects & plans. 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Biochar - An Organic House for Soil Microbes

Bryan Hugill (Co-founder and Environmental Manager, Raitong Organics Farm, Sisaket Province, Thailand) has submitted the following linked article on biochar for ECHO Asia Notes publication. It is a general biochar introduction for ECHO Asia readers but also draws upon biochar field activities in Thailand.

"The ECHO Asia Regional Office seeks to extend the services of ECHO to help those working with the poor in Asia to be more effective, especially in the area of agriculture. The ECHO Asia Regional Office functions primarily as a technical support organization helping community development organizations and workers operate more effectively."

The Terra Preta Sanitation – Biochar (TPS-B) Initiative of the WAND Foundation is given a Boost with an award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Grand Challenges Explorations

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development (WAND) Foundation is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Elmer V. Sayre will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Ecological Sanitation for the Base of the Pyramid”.

Elmer Sayre inspecting specialized dry toilet bowls
Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds scientists and researchers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr. Elmer V. Sayre’s project is one of over 85 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 6 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

You can follow Dr Elmer V. Sayre's project activities in the Philippines at the Mindanao Terra Preta - Biochar Initiative website:

Please also note that Proposals are now open for Round 7 funding up until 19 May:

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Research looks at impact of biochar on water efficiency

EARLY results from Australian-first research at the Tamworth Agricultural Institute have found the use of biochar has the potential to improve water use efficiency in pastures.According to NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) Research Hydrologist, Dr Malem McLeod, this is the first time research has looked at how biochar affects plant water use in pastures."Along with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and boosting nutrient retention we now hope to add water efficiency to the long list of biochar benefits," Dr McLeod said."Our research is looking at the impact of poultry-litter biochar on both fertilizer and water use efficiency in tropical pastures." Every month, we measure profile soil water content in the trial plots which have varying fertilizer application rates with and without a poultry-litter biochar."We also estimate herbage mass and take plant samples to see how efficiently the pastures uses water and nitrogen."The initial results are pleasing and show the plots which incorporated biochar, at a rate of ten tonnes per hectare together with fertilizer, were up to 17 per cent more water efficient than those without biochar."

Dr McLeod said the project is part of a larger international project in Australia and Aceh, Indonesia, led by Dr Peter Slavich, and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. "The next two years of the project will confirm the extent of these initial findings," Dr McLeod said. "With one of the most variable rainfall climates in the world, Australian agricultural industries are always looking at ways to become more efficient and more adaptive. "Technological advances such as biochar helps our farmers do more with less and continue to find ways to adapt to our unpredictable climate." Biochar is a stable form of charcoal produced from heating organic materials (crop and other waste, woodchips, manure) in a high temperature, low oxygen process known as pyrolysis. Preliminary results of the Tamworth biochar study include:
  • Plots which incorporated biochar together with fertilizer were up to 17 per cent more water efficient than those without biochar.
  • Pasture biomass is higher on plots which incorporated biochar when nitrogen fertiliser is also applied.
  • Poultry-litter biochar increased available phosphorus by around 50 per cent in the first year of application.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

2nd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference

The following announcement is from Dr Lukas Van Zwieten:

Dear Colleagues,

Following on from a successful Asia Pacific Biochar Conference on the Gold Coast in 2009, the Japan Biochar Association (JBA), Japan Association for Human and Environmental Symbiosis, and Ritsumeikan University, in affiliation with: Australian New Zealand Biochar Researchers Network (ANZBRN) and International Biochar Initiative will be hosting the:

 2nd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference in Kyoto this September (2011).

I urge you all to visit the website for more information on this highly relevant regional conference. There has been a small extension for abstract submission, so I hope everyone is able to present their latest work and innovations at this conference. The conference hosts assure me that Kyoto is quite spectacular in Autumn, and Kyoto is largely unaffected by the recent difficulties in northern Japan.

hope to see you all there!!

Dr Lukas Van Zwieten | Principal Research Scientist | Climate in Primary Industries
Industry & Investment NSW | Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute | 1243 Bruxner Highway |  Wollongbar | NSW 2477
T: 02 6626 1126 | F: 02 6628 3264| M: 0428 628 847 | E:
W: |

Monday, 21 March 2011

BEK arrives in Malaysia

On Friday and Saturday this week, I visited the team at the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB... the research arm of the Malaysian palm oil industry) who were assembling the first BEK in Malaysia.  This may also be the first BEK in SEA but, as previously reported, GEK has arrived already in the Philippines.

This initiative is part of the biochar research collaboration between MPOB and UniKL MICET, as reported previously by Dr Robert Bachmann (BIG-SEA, 18Jan11).

"The BEK (Biochar Experimenter’s Kit) is a reconfiguration of GEK components to create a multi-mode pyrolysis machine for characterized biochar and bio-oil making.  The BEK supports multiple pyrolysis process modes in direct combustion (updraft, TLUD and stratified downdraft), indirect combustion retort, and sweep gas through bed heat transfer." (BEK website)

1st run on palm kernel shell
Jay from  ALL Power Labs in Berkeley, California was on hand to guide the assembly process and provide some initial training. The first solids consumed by the BEK were palm kernel shell, one of the more easily digestible biomass waste feed-stocks from the PO industry. More difficult wastes such as EFB will be targeted for production research and soil trials. More on this in the future, as BEK develops an appetite for a high fibre diet (the baby currently does not have any teeth).

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Envergent Technologies Designing Plant to Convert Palm Biomass to Renewable Fuels

"DES PLAINES, Ill., Mar. 10, 2011 – Envergent Technologies LLC, a Honeywell (NYSE:HON) company, announced today that it has been selected by Premium Renewable Energy (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. to perform the engineering design for a project that will use Envergent’s RTP® Rapid Thermal Processing technology to convert palm biomass to renewable heat and electricity. The initial Premium RTP facility, to be initiated in late 2011 and completed in early 2013, will be Malaysia’s first plant to use RTP for the production of a clean-burning liquid biofuel derived from biomass. The RTP liquid fuels will be used to generate renewable electricity and heat."

This press release made the local papers here in Malaysia today. This is a 'flash pyrolysis' technology... probably similar to Dynamotive in Canada (and a number of other technology providers in various stages of commercial development). The business model for flash pyrolysis is very much focused on biomass to energy - principally bio-oils and liquid fuels.  Residual carbon from the process is being identified as a source of biochar. Dynamotive have been supporting biochar soil trials by BlueLeaf over the last few years with exciting results. A search on the Energent website for biochar pulls no results so it does not look like they have the supply of biochar in their immediate plans.

As oil prices rise, so will the intrinsic value of waste biomass, such as EFB (the likely target of Energent for biomass feed-stock).  Supply currently exceeds demand so EFB probably has a disposal cost rather than an income - particularly for independent palm oil mills (with no access to plantation disposal). This is set to change in the future and I am predicting competition between slow and fast pyrolysis technologies for the attention of the big plantation companies and their biomass wastes.  The two technologies vary in a number of ways: 

Flash pyrolysis
  • Flash pyrolysis is focused on liquid biofuels but could also provide CHP integration into the palm oil mill. Some high temperature biochar may be available depending on the technology but this will be a minor component.
  • The technology is often more complex and expensive than slow pyrolysis so will demand larger project scales with a more centralized model (maybe a bold assumption!). This may work well for POM integration but not so well for the massive plantation replanting program that is required in the industry (and currently being deferred by high palm oil prices!).
  • The biomass and carbon is removed from the agricultural system. Additional inputs will be required to replace these losses. This will carry an additional cost to the plantation or to soil / crop productivity, if not replaced.
Slow pyrolysis
  • Slow pyrolysis technologies can also produce bio-oils and energy gases for CHP and power production but must sacrifice some on the potential energy value when locking it up as recalcitrant carbon. This 'charcoal', when applied to the soil as biochar, has multiple benefits... principally related to soil enhancement, environmental management and carbon sequestration.
  • Slow pyrolysis will generally be smaller, simpler, cheaper and may be much more variable in scale and efficiency. It may offer a more 'distributed energy' solution that will lower biomass handling costs. It can offer mobile solutions to capture biomass that may otherwise be lost as co2 to hungry bacteria (replanting of palm requires chipping of old palms to control beetle infestation... a great opportunity for mobile pyrolysis).
  • Slow pyrolysis biochar has different properties than flash/fast. It remains to be seen which product has greater benefits under specific agriculture conditions. And this may depend on soil type / condition, agriculture and environmental considerations.
  • Slow pyrolysis may have greater control over process conditions for the manufacture of designer biochars. Mainly because biochar is likely to be the focused product.
The competition for this biomass will be based on hard-nosed economic decisions by plantation companies.  Personally, I'm punting on biochar and slow pyrolysis... but it looks like the flashy guys have got the lead! If market devices are allowed to drive this, then biochar must prove its self in the 'field'. It will have to have a higher economic value as a soil / crop enhancer and carbon sequestration tool than as a combustion fuel. The plantation companies are only likely to factor in the environmental benefits if they can be quantified and converted to an economic value (or environmental marketing opportunities?).  Bring on the soil trials! 

I am currently aware of four separate groups planning biochar soil trials and targeting the palm oil industry. Other project proposals are looking for funding.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Promoting climate friendly bioenergy and food security in the Greater Mekong Sub-region

"Promoting climate friendly bioenergy and food security in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (assessing the possibilities for 2011)"
This was the title of the FAO and ADB sponsored  workshop at which I presented on biochar and the output from the Yunnan Biochar Study on 11 February at the ADB Thailand Resident Mission, Bangkok. As well as FAO and ADB the audience included representatives from EEP Mekong, UNDP, government agency reps from Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, France, Japan and USA. Mae Fah Luang University, AIT and other independent agencies were also represented at this small, informal forum (~30 participants).
 The program included 6 presentations:
  • GMS partnership, activities on bioenergy and proposed program – Climate friendly bioenergy and food security (ADB) 
  • Bioenergy & Food Security – A regional perspective (FAO)
  • Possibilities for using microfinance for farm/household level bioenergy technologies (AIT)
  • Developing and testing standards for biomass energy in ASEAN (JGSEE)
  • Developing opportunities for public private partnerships in rural bioenergy (ECO-Asia)
  • Potential for biochar in the GMS (BSL-SaafConsult).
Please get in touch if you are interested in seeing any of these presentations. Please also refer to the earlier postings on the Yunnan biochar study.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Golden Agri adopts no deforestation policy

Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) yesterday announced a new forest conservation policy that will ensure its palm oil operations will minimize its impact on forests. 
Oil palm fruit2
SE Asia's palm oil industry struggles on path to sustainability. Photo:

GAR is the world’s second-largest palm oil producer and the largest in Indonesia with annual revenues of US$2.3 billion. Its move was seen widely as a response to intense pressure and lobbying by environmental groups such as Greenpeace recently over allegations of illegal forest clearing.

The firm yesterday signed an agreement in Jakarta with The Forest Trust (TFT), a Geneva-based non profit organisation, which will commence work immediately to work with GAR to identify high carbon stock forests, high conservation value (HCV) areas and peat lands.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Biocharm project - final report now available

This 100+ page report includes information on the field trials with rice husk chars from small scale gasifier systems in Cambodia.

"... While there has been much discussion of biochar as a sustainable strategy in developing countries, there have as yet been very few detailed case-studies from feedstock to field deployment. This report presents original field trial results using carbonized rice husk (CRH) and sugar cane trash and corn cob char. It aims to evaluate systems of feedstocks - energy conversion technologies - and agricultural use of biochar."

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Biochar in slash-and-burn agricultural systems in Northern Laos

Bryan Hugill has provided the following project announcement summary for the IBI January newsletter...

Biochar in slash-and-burn agricultural systems in Northern Laos

SaafConsult will be working with the GTZ/GIZ in the Sayabouri province, Laos, in early 2011 to undertake an assessment of the technical feasibility for biochar applications as a complementary approach for REDD. The work aims to inform the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on the current status of implementing biochar as a carbon sequestration method in tropical countries and to assess the potential and technical feasibility for applying biochar in halting shifting cultivation (slash-and-burn) through the sustainable utilization of woody biomass to increase of soil fertility and improve carbon sequestration (slash and char).

For more information, please contact Bryan Hugill ( /

Biochar related activities in Malaysia

Below are 3 more news items for the January edition of the IBI newsletter Co/ Dr Robert Bachmann from UniKL in Malaysia...

UniKL degree students have carried out preliminary studies on heat transfer efficiency, particulate and CO emission as well as biochar production potential of improved (Paul Anderson's TLUD, Crispin Pendecott's VESTO) and traditional Malaysian cooking stoves. Biofuels tested include crushed coconut shells and EFB pellets. Experiments will be repeated this year to verify the findings from 2010. Our improved cooking stove test project is also participating in a cooking stove survey spearheaded by IBI (personal communication with Kelpie Wilson, IBI communications editor) for the 2011 World Bank study advertised last year. Two degreee students from the Royal Agriculture University, Cambodia, have been selected to join our team for a period of 6 months.
UniKL is also collaborating with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) to convert solid palm oil mill waste into syngas, biooil and biochar. Experiments are carried out at lab- and field-scale in terms of biochar production and soil trials. AllPowerLabs' Biochar Experimenter Kit (BEK, is currently being set-up at MPOB to produce biochar for field trials in the second half of 2011.
Scientists from MARDI (Malaysia), UniKL, Cornell University (USA) and NGI (Norway) have also joined forces to investigate the sequestering of carbon and improve soil quality and crop yield.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Terra Preta Sanitation project in Philippines

Dr Elmer V Sayre has provided a biochar related project report from the Philippines. This has been sent to IBI for the January newsletter. A summary of this report is provided below... the full report is available on request. The Ecosan project ( is also linked to this work.

Transforming Human Waste and Other Organic Matter into Highly Fertile Soil via Terra Preta Sanitation and Biochar: The WAND Foundation Experience

........."Our Terra Preta – Biochar mix include sawdust, urine, animal manure, feces, charcoal and the bacteria Bacillus subtilis.  The feces we get from the number of urine diverting, dehydration (ecosan) toilets that we established among local cooperators in 3 municipalities in Misamis Oriental and in Dipolog City. The charcoal we are using are partially burned rice chaff from rice mills in Dipolog City as well as charcoal from copra production." ..........

........... "So far our results are encouraging. Last November 2010, we started an experiment using our terra preta – biochar mix to coconuts, bananas and rice. We also provided the mix to our farmer-cooperators as pilot initiatives with the view of expanding this later on."

E-copies of my book on experiences in promoting ecological sanitation is available upon request.

Elmer V. Sayre, Ph.D., In-house Adviser, WAND Foundation, Libertad, Misamis Oriental. Email address: elmer2222001(at)"