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Executive Summary

Biochar has the potential to increase agricultural productivity, enhance agriculture’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and produce sustainable energy. When added to soils, biochar may enhance the resilience of soil ecosystems in the face of intensifying weather events and pressures to improve soil productivity. But not all biochars are created equally. Diversity in feedstocks, production technologies, and biochar end uses creates a complex web of variables whose interactions and synergies are still being investigated. And although purposely adding charcoal to soils is an old practice in some parts of the world, biochar as a product is relatively new—both in terms of research and of a formal biochar industry focused on promoting its adoption as a mainstream soil fertility management practice.

The biochar industry is growing. A biochar marketplace is evident in some areas and a biochar supply chain has emerged—from equipment manufacturers and biochar purveyors to production and use consultants. Furthermore, the industry has created characterization standards and certification programs for biochar to ensure a safe, consistent product.

IBI published its first State of the Biochar Industry report in 2013; this is the second annual report on findings from the industry at large. It includes a history of biochar production and use and, an overview on the current state of the industry based on survey responses from commercial operations as well as internet research. The report presents results on feedstocks, biochar uses, costs, volumes transacted, production equipment, policies and regulations, barriers to expansion, and market trends and outlook. Case studies from five biochar companies are included to highlight the diversity of operations that comprise this industry. The report concludes with recommendations for increased growth—with a focus on creating a vibrant and sustainable biochar industry.

Image: Companies in the biochar industry by sector in 2014 (n=200) compared to 2013 (n=175)

Key Findings

  • In 2014, similar to 2013, the biochar industry has yet to make a substantial entry into large-scale agricultural operations.
  • The number of companies included in this report rose from 175 in 2013 to 200 in 2014. Although a large number of companies left the biochar field, new biochar companies are coming online; many with a focus on multiple value streams from biochar.
  • Unblended biochar and biochar products blended with other materials are being sold in many countries at a wide range of wholesale and retail prices. We found 56 pure biochar products on the marketplace and 33 blends; with the average wholesale price for pure biochar at US$2.06 kg and the average retail price for pure biochar at US$3.08 kg.
  • Companies reported volumes of biochar sales totaling 7,457 metric tons. A significant majority of those transactions were made by a small number of businesses in Asia.
  • Woody biomass continues to be the largest source of feedstock for the biochar industry, with 87% of respondents using woody biomass as a biochar feedstock.
  • Biochar is increasingly utilized for more applications outside the soil amendment sector. Within the sector, biochar is blended with new products to create enhanced biochars.
  • Published scientific research that we identified regarding various characteristics, feedstocks, production values, and uses for biochar expanded significantly; from 421 publications dated 2013 to more than 900 in 2014.