Biochar is such a basic thing when you think about it, naturally occurring all over the planet for hundreds of millions of years. But producing man-made biochar in a way that will earn you valuable Carbon Dioxide Removal Credits (CDRCs) exchangeable in a newly emerging marketplace is a bit more complicated. In the following article, we aim to spell out the basic steps and requirements to develop biochar projects with Planboo’s unique process which is aligned with Europe’s leading Biochar Standard, the EBC.
NOTE: This article first appeared in January 2023, last updated in October 2023.
This is a critical list of elements and ingredients that any biochar-producing farmer or agroforestry project will need in order to qualify and make the Carbon Removal Credit certification process worthwhile. Above all, the project will need a sufficient source of available biomass, as well as access to additional land to develop the project. Some pyrolysis equipment, and staff who know how to operate it, will of course be necessary to turn the biomass into biochar. It’s essential that everything is done in a manner that meets Planboo’s highest social and environmental standards.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the specific ingredients and requirements to carry out one of these carbon removing projects.
1. Sustainable biomass
The key ingredient to making a significant quantity of biochar is a generous supply of biomass. Any small biochar project is worth doing, but to make the certification process worthwhile, the project needs at least about 1,300 tonnes of biomass per year. This can come from a single plantation or from a cluster of smaller farmers working together in a cooperative farmer network model.
From this volume of biomass, you should be about produce about 225 tons of biochar per year, or 450 CDRCs.
We prefer to work with woody biomass that’s more substantial, such as bamboo or rubber trees, as the biochar from these feedstocks has a high carbon content between 70-90%. And we insist that the biomass source is sustainable. That means our producers can’t be clearcutting forests to gather wood to turn into biochar.
Consistency is also crucial. For purposes of measuring and tracking biochar production and carbon removal, we need to have a uniform feedstock. If different combinations of biomass are being used in every batch, then it becomes impossible to quantify how much carbon is being captured.
Bamboo, when harvested correctly, is ideal because it draws down so much CO2 as it grows, and older poles can be collected without harming the plant. In fact, harvesting mature culms actually benefits the plant and encourages more fresh growth. If those poles are not harvested, they will simply age and decay, eventually releasing the CO2 back into the atmosphere.
On rubber plantations, old trees are no longer productive, so they need to be removed and replaced with young trees. This agro-business model results in a great quantity of biomass waste which is another perfect input for biochar production.
Finally, it’s important that this biomass is close to the cook site, within about 50 km of the kilns. If the biomass has to travel too far, then it starts to generate a larger carbon footprint of its own. Long distance transportation can also lead to logistical difficulties and costs.
2. Biochar kiln or other pyrolysis equipment
The most affordable option, and the most popular choice among our projects in the tropics, is the Kontiki kiln. The parts for such a kiln can cost around $1-2,000 USD per unit. A successful project may require 3 or 4 of these units to achieve the necessary production capacity.
Kontiki kilns come in different sizes, but we encourage producers to use a large 1500-litre model. Larger capacity means greater efficiency, helping to ensure that the project will be financially viable. Multiple small kilns will translate into higher labor costs and other incidental expenses.
Someone local to the project will need the engineering and mechanical skills to assemble this low-tech kiln. And staff will be needed to operate the kiln on a daily basis. Planboo will provide the technical knowledge and training to safely operate the Kontiki kiln effectively.
If the budget allows, and there’s enough biomass supply to justify it, you can invest in more sophisticated and higher-capacity machinery. This can significantly improve the efficiency of the biochar production. The range of equipment is vast, and we are continually looking at new options and alternatives.
3. Cook site
In order to assemble, install and operate the biochar kiln, there are a few more simple requirements. Of course, the space will need to be available, not only to operate the equipment but also to gather the incoming biomass feedstock and store the finished product as it comes out of the kiln.
To function properly, the production site will need access to water, electricity, and a mobile network. Solar and satellite technologies can also be used. To satisfy Carbon Credit standards, burns must be closely monitored and recorded. Our smartphone app and IOT hardware technology makes this simple and easy to do.