There are many different ways to make biochar, but all of them involve heating biomass with little or no oxygen to drive off volatile gasses, leaving carbon behind. This simple process is called thermal decomposition usually from pyrolysis or gasification. These methods can produce clean energy in the form of gas or oil along with the biochar. This energy may be recoverable for another use, or it may simply be burned and released as heat. It’s one of the few technologies that is relatively inexpensive, widely applicable and quickly scalable.
But biochar technology is more than just the equipment needed to produce biochar. Biochar technology necessarily includes entire integrated systems that can contain various components that may or may not be part of any particular system.
Biochar production diagram courtesy of Johannes Lehmann
In general, however, biochar systems should include the following elements:
- Collection, transport and processing of biomass feedstocks
- Characterization and testing of biochar
- Production and utilization of energy co-products: gas, oil or heat
- Biochar transport and handling for soil application
- Monitoring of biochar applications for carbon accounting
- Life Cycle Assessment and full system monitoring for sustainability assessment