In September I attended the ‘International Biochar Initiative’ annual study tour in Finland. With speakers and delegates from 18 countries this was a unique opportunity to meet biochar experts from around the world.
The study tour started in the capital city, Helsinki, with a conference titled: ‘Carbon Sink Trading’. Creating carbon storage is the first stage of trading, several speakers explained the usefulness of biochar in increasing Carbon sequestration in soil. In the Kaindorf region in Austria, farmers are paid to increase the carbon content of their soil (Okoregion Keindorf, 2019). Over a period of five years farmers aim to increase the soil carbon by 1%, payments are approximately €30 per tonne. Increasing the carbon content by 1% on a 5 hectare field can increase the stored carbon by 250 tonne.
There were several presentations explaining carbon trading schemes from several European countries,
A presentation by The Finnish ‘Minister of the Environment and Climate Change’ Krista Mikkonen highlighted to us how Finland were on target to achieve very ambitious decarbonising targets.
The study tour then moved inland to Tampere, a city which is mostly heated by a district heating scheme with a total pipe length of over 600km. The majority of the heat is generated from renewable energy sources including biochar production. The focus of the second day was ‘biochar production and use’. Speakers from businesses in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Australia explained the challenges of making biochar efficiently with a consistent high quality. Manual methods including the practical ‘hole in the ground’ a were discussed alongside automated continuous flow pyrolysis retorts. Speakers included manufactures and users of several different biochar retorts.
The highlight of the trip for me was visiting ‘Carbofex’, an innovative business owned by entrepreneur Sampo Turkiainen. Carbofex have built and successfully operate the largest continuously operating biochar plant in Europe. The plant produces over 1000 tonnes of biochar, 600 tonnes of pyrolysis oil and generate up to 7000 mWh of heat every year from waste wood woodchip. The wood chips are heated at between 600 – 700 °C for 5 – 10 minutes. With a carbon content of over 90% the biochar is very high quality.
The Carbofex biochar is sold for use as:
· Removal of nutrients (phosphorous, nitrogen) from industrial and municipal effluents, ponds and lakes
· Growing media
· Building – biochar concrete building materials, vacuum insulation.
Several farm scale biochar producers attended the conference displaying various products.
The following growth boxes are sold with a compost and biochar mix with seeds (mostly herbs) ready planted.
The third day focussed on the urban uses of biochar, the speakers discussed many different uses for biochar, including:
· Humidity bricks and plaster.
· Temperature insulation
· Carbon fertiliser/compost, substitute for peat in potting soil
· Water treatment in fish farming
· Decontamination of soil and natural water
· Soil additive for soil remediation
· A barrier preventing pesticides getting into surface water
· Treating pond and lake water
· Waste water and sewage treatment
· Active carbon filter
· Composting toilets
· Treatment of drinking water
· Exhaust filter
· Controlling emissions
· Blocking radiation
· Animal feed