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.