Challenging the biochar stereotype – Understanding when it does and doesn't work

Biochar is charcoal made for soil amendment, rather than energy production. Within the last 10 years biochar has been researched intensively regarding its potential use in agriculture, soil remediation, carbon sequestration and countless other applications. After initial hype, global interest in biochar has stagnated in recent years. Stereotypes about its (un)-suitability, economic viability and (un)-sustainability have arisen. This is partially due to misconceptions of what biochar is and isn’t.

Biochar is a collective term for a variety of products. Because it is made from vastly different feedstocks, biochar is heterogeneous and not every biochar is suitable for every application. As research progresses it is clear that the mechanisms driving positive effects need to be investigated in-depth to inform better future outcomes.

I will discuss current challenges in biochar research and provide insights into the great potential of biochar production as part of sustainable waste management systems, yielding a value-added material with multiple end-uses.

About the speaker

Dr Wolfram Buss is a biologist with an interest in sustainable food systems. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Justus Liebig University (2010), a Master’s degree in Environmental Protection and Agricultural Food Production from Hohenheim University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (2012) and a PhD in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences from the University of Edinburgh (2016). Wolfram’s recently completed PhD thesis presents his investigation of organic and inorganic contaminant formation during biochar production, as well as the fate and potential effects of contaminants and nutrients after biochar application to plants and soils. His PhD research spanned the fields of biology, environmental sciences, chemistry, agriculture and environmental engineering, resulting in seven publications. Wolfram is currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the UK Biochar Research Centre in Edinburgh, working towards optimising biochar systems to support sustainable food and energy production.