UK Biochar Research Centre
Charchive Standard Biochars
Systems & Social page photo
Key Staff Member:
Dr. Saran P. Sohi

This area of UKBRC’s work is founded upon addressing the practical question of:

Is it worth deploying biochar for some or all of the following: carbon storage, improvement of soils, agronomic benefit, sustainable management of wastes or soil remediation? This refers to deployment in the UK and in other countries and/or larger-scale regions. In the above sentence ‘worth’ can be defined in terms of one or more of the following: economic value, carbon abatement, ecosystem services (including biodiversity, hydrology, etc.), socio-cultural development, and so on.

We aim to understand biochar as a system, extending from production and preparation of feedstocks, technologies for biochar production, deployment to field or elsewhere and (short- and long-term) impacts of biochar once in field. The different elements of the system interact with one another, e.g. the properties of the feedstock have an influence upon the biochar and its properties and upon its performance in soils and agricultural settings.The value of biochar for carbon storage and/or agronomic benefits in real-world settings will influence the cost-effective production of biochar (including, e.g., the selection of the feedstock, its processing, how far it is transported, and so on). Only certain combinations of feedstocks, distribution networks (storage and transportation), production technologies, application sites, crop types with associated support (irrigation, management, harvesting, distribution, etc.) and so on, will be economically viable, sustainable and acceptable.  The systems analysis aims to provide tools and methods for identifying these viable combinations through multi- and interdisciplinary assessment of different options. Factors which influence deployment costs and viability, such as regulation, incentives, policy development in the areas of agri-food, bioenergy and climate, etc., are a key component of the systems analysis, need to be clearly identified and their influence upon systems understood.

Different situations and contexts will require priority to be given to different configurations. So, for example, in some cases the agronomic value of biochar might be relatively small, and deployment would not be driven by agronomic gains alone or to any extent. Deployment might, however, be driven in those cases by the price of carbon above a given floor price. In other cases, the agronomic benefits may drive the deployment of biochar more than carbon storage. The differential performance of alternative deployment options will have a strong influence, alongside policy drivers and measures, on what biochar gets produced, where and how it is used and why. The systems analysis provides tools and methods for assessing such differential deployment and its consequences. It can also be used to inform policy makers and to indicate what types of policy measures might be effective in promoting certain applications of biochar for carbon storage and, in some cases, agronomic benefit.

Relevant Research Areas: