Adelaide Hills Biochar Initiative


by Brian Lewis - November 10th, 2011.
Filed under: Announcements.


The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) recently released for public comment its draft guidelines for specifications of biochar. The guidelines cover terms and definitions; feedstock requirements; safety requirements; testing; product labelling etc.

My initial comments on the guidelines are as follows:

Definition of biochar: The definition is over simplified, viz: “A solid material obtained from the carbonisation of biomass”. I think that any word preceded by the term “bio” suggests that it is of biological origin. Well charcoal made from coal is of biological origin (from fossilised plant matter).

So why the term biochar? I presume that it has been coined to try to discriminate between char from non-fossil sources and char made from fossil sources. The claim that biochar has the potential to be carbon negative by acting to sequester fixed carbon in the soil is relevant to the definition.

If we are going to have a biochar methodology for approving carbon credits then it goes without saying that the process of making biochar must be carbon negative as the calculation of carbon credits would have to be based on the mass of fixed carbon actually sequestered in the biochar less any carbon actually generated and added to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide by the production process.

So I believe that we need to expand the definition of biochar to mean that it only refers to char produced in such a way that it avoids more carbon dioxide than it generates. For example:

“Biochar is a solid material obtained by the carbonisation of biomass in a carbon negative process.”

Then it would be good to qualify the term with further definitions that specify the efficiency of its carbon dioxide avoidance.

If we let % CO2 Avoidance = (CO2 avoided-CO2 generated)/CO2

avoided x 100% then the following definition of biochar could apply :

BiocharNNN would be biochar produced with a carbon avoidance efficiency of NNN%. Eg: Biochar100; Biochar80; etc.

I guess I am concerned at the possibility in the future of large industrial processes for making and selling so-called biochar where the biochar has little or no carbon sequestration value. To me that would be a gross misuse of the term biochar as I think it was originally envisaged.

The document may be viewed at

It is open for public comment until 15 Nov. 2011.

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