Using biochar to increase biodiversity in soil

Standard Bio uses char based products to enhance soil, animal feed supplements and filtering systems to help promote a sustainable carbon capturing future.

There are several definitions for char-based products. According to the International Biochar Initiative (IBI), the most accepted and standardised definition for Biochar is “a solid material obtained from the thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment” (IBI, 2012).1 The material has gained a lot of attention worldwide due to its many applications, and in particular its ability to stimulate biodiversity in soil. Although still in its infancy, Biochar has a rapidly growing gigaton market potential. At Standard Bio we make high quality biochar that is used in unique biochar-based compound fertilizers (BCF).

Active chars (a form of carbon processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area) are intended and optimised for adsorption applications. The active char market is one of the fastest growing markets worldwide. At present, most of the production of active chars comes from fossil feedstock or unsustainable feedstock and require steam or chemical treatment to enhance adsorption properties. At Standard Bio we are able to produce active char straight from the kiln (oven) using a low cost, sustainable feedstock. Our active char can be used for animal feed supplements and filtering. New applications are entering the market every day. Unlike Standard Bio many manufacturers struggle to make char-based products in an economical and sustainable way without compromising quality.

The Standard Bio carbon negative modular system

Standard Bios approach to make biochar and active char products is based on local and sustainable production. As a result, we offer very good cost/benefit solutions. These solutions are also environmentally friendly. With increasing environmental awareness and new legislations, a sustainable approach will become the only way to produce high quality char-based products in the future. Our technology offering and knowhow about char products are based on strong scientific foundations. The preliminary tests on our char-based products show high quality and excellent results for crop performance.

The opportunity

Underutilised resources from industries such as a forestry, agriculture, mining and recycling, have low to negative value; including waist products containing plastic and pathogens. In most cases these resources are high in volume, not homogenous and wet. Therefore, they are not economical to transport. However, Standard Bio can use waste nutrients and underutilised resources to make char-based products. Our factories are designed to be placed as close as possible to raw material sources and users of thermal energy (for both heating and cooling). To enable scaling of our concept, we want to focus on places where there are problems to be solved, such as:

  • Biogas plants handling food waste: pre-reject, reject and digestate can be turned to sterile, plastic free and transportable char-based products
  • Sawmills and paper factories: paper sludge, bark and wood waste can be turned into more valuable char-based products and energy that can be used locally
  • Recycling: plastic waste, dirty paper, wood waste and other non-recyclables can be upgraded into valuable char-based products.

To achieve a carbon negative production, the key issues are proximity, choice of raw materials and use of energy. There must be a balance between the need for energy and the supply of feedstock. Standard Bios standardised modules address scaling in a new and innovative way. Moreover, if the energy from the process is utilised and the products derived from the process are used in either soil, animals or concrete, it can then be labelled as a carbon negative concept. For many companies this provides a unique opportunity to make money out of waste in an environmentally sustainable way.

Standard Bio partner with companies in a mutual beneficial, long term relationship. In this type of partnership, it is in the best interest of all the partners to protect each other. There is no point in having solutions if they cannot be used in widespread applications. The key to this is the business model; saving the environment is not equal to losing money. This is a great opportunity to create meaningful jobs, whilst at the same time fulfilling many of the UN’s sustainability goals and make money.

Our technology offering

Standard Bio use self-developed unique solutions and state of the art technology. This is set in a tailor-made configuration in order to produce high quality, science driven products. We aim to maximise the performance of our products even where the feedstocks vary. For this reason, our technology configuration must be adapted to each project. All products will be branded, and Standard Bio will guaranty the quality of the product. Our competitive technology packages are only available to those interested in a close cooperation with Standard Bio.

Helping nature help itself

Issues such as food security, declining soil fertility, climate change, and profitability will drive the development of new technologies and new farming practices. We are entering an era with many uncertainties and there is a growing international focus on soil, soil health and food production.

Half of the world’s most productive soil is already lost; more than one third of agricultural soils is acutely degraded and we are at risk of losing all topsoil in the next 60 years (according to senior officials at the Food and Agricultural organisation for the united nation (FAO)). This will lower farm productivity and can cause famine and hidden hunger (micronutrient and vitamin deficiency). According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) more than two billion people are thought to be affected by this often-invisible form of malnutrition.

Soil depletion occurs when the components, which contribute to fertility, are removed and not replaced. Soil is a living, breathing ecosystem and soils respiration rate is an indicator of microbial activity. Microbes exist by the billions in just a handful of soil. Due to long-term treatment with inorganic fertilisers (N and NPK) and/or organic manures, a shift in microbial diversity and dominant bacterial groups have been recorded in agricultural soil.

There are many scientific classifica¬tions for microbes in soil, but for simplicity let us use the terms ‘good’ microbes (major¬ity) and ‘bad’ microbes (small minority). Good microbes enhance plant growth, and bad microbes cause diseases in plants. Of course, things are never quite so clear-cut in nature. Some things can be good under some circumstances and bad under others. In short, the soil is not healthy if it has too much or too little nutrients or if the microbial community is out of balance.

There is growing focus on the benefit of using biochar to develop a sustainable system for agriculture. Biochar and biochar-based compound fertilizers (BCF) with all their unique properties may be the best choice for upgrading soil and benefit the entire soil ecosystems. In addition to improving and modifying soil properties (pH, nutrients, organic matter, structure etc.) it has also been reported that the effect on plant growth is beyond obvious contributions to plant nutrition and improved soil physicochemical properties. In a review by Elad et al. (2012), this phenomenon was termed “The Biochar Effect” and it seems to be linked to biochar-induced changes in the microbial community.2 It was also stated that improvement of plant responses to disease can be one of the benefits gained from applying biochar to soil. In a recent review by Palansooriya et al. (2019), focusing on the response of microbial communities to biochar‑amended soils, they stated that biochar-soil application may enhances the soil microbial biomass and that Biochar application has a significant potential for improving soil health.3

However, it is important to add that for soil improvement, only scientifically validated Biochar-amended products should be applied. At Standard Bio, we aim for the highest quality biochar and to be able to do that we intertwine technology development with chemical and biological expertise. All our products are under strict quality control. We have an interdisciplinary international team of technicians and scientists focusing on making high quality, research-based products. In addition to high quality, we also make sure our products are user friendly and made in an applicable favourable manner.

Our ‘less is more’ products

Our solution at Standard Bio to fix depleted soil is to upcycle low to negative valued resources to biochar-based compound fertilizers (BCF) in a carbon negative process. At Standard Bios we believe there are two main aspects which make BCF amendment superior to other organic materials. Firstly, Biochar has high stability against decay so that it can remain in soil for longer periods of time providing long-term benefits to soil. Secondly, it is more capable in retaining nutrients. Biochar amendment improves soil quality by increasing soil pH, moisture-holding capacity, cation-exchange capacity, and microbial flora. Continually, microorganisms need electrons for everything that they do, and Biochar based products help these life essential processes.

Amending the soil with Standard Bio’s BCF products brings high definition to the electron network. In turn, the electrons spur conductive networks and growth. Biochar near the plant roots may reduce the number of plant pathogens. This in combination with the improved soil conductivity reduces the energy that the plant needs in order to grow. Moreover, it also increases growth considerably at a lower cost for both the farmer and the environment.

If you look at a list of things Biochar is supposed to do in soil, you’ll find that it is very similar to lists of specification that you see for compost (this is a process recycling organic materials otherwise regarded as waste products to produce soil conditioner):

  • Improves tilth and reduces soil bulk density
  • Increases soil water holding capacity
  • Increases cation exchange capacity (CEC – the ability to hold onto and transfer nutrient cations, such as ammonium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium)
  • Improves fertiliser utilisation by reducing leaching from the root zone
  • Retains minerals in the plant available form
  • Supports soil microbial life and biodiversity
  • Helps plants resist diseases and pathogens
  • Helps plants grow better in high salt situations
  • Adds humus carbon to the soil carbon pool, reducing the atmospheric carbon pool.

However, unlike Biochar, compost is quickly broken down by microbial action in the soil. As a result, it is not possible to add enough compost to make enough impact and the composting itself is a huge emitter of climate gas. Biochar on the other hand lasts at least 10 times longer in most soils, it can be added sufficiently to make an impact and it also has the ability to increase the storage of greenhouse gasses. All Standard Bios Biochar based products can be registered as organic and are machine spreadable.

In addition to the vast problem with soil depletion due to removal of nutrients, there is the unacceptable toxic effects on living organisms due to extensive use of pesticides. There is a need to find environmentally acceptable soil remediation to counteract the presence of pesticides in soil. A recent review by Khorram et al. (2019) focusing on biochar and its impact on pesticide behavior in soil, concluded that biochar has demonstrated a clear and prominent potential to remediate pesticide-contaminated soils.4

Why biodiversity is key

Biochar can help agriculture move from being part of the global warming problem, to becoming the solution. Healthy soils have immense potential to store carbon. Active char and Biochar may be one of the main solutions for carbon capture because it represents long term carbon storage.

Even more important than this, the mycorrhiza tends to love loaded Biochar. The term mycorrhizas is a symbiotic association between a fungus and a plant that refers to the role of the fungus in the plant’s rhizosphere. It has been stipulated that ecosystems encompassing mycorrhizal vegetation store on the order of 350 gigatons of carbon globally, compared to just 29 gigatons stored in non-mycorrhizal vegetation.5

The Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) is a special type of mycorrhiza that facilitate host plants to grow vigorously under stressful conditions and it can extend the roots of approximately 90% of all plants. Solaiman et al. (2019) tested a wide range of biochars and found that the higher the nutrient (P and N) concentrations in the soil, the lower the mycorrhizal colonisation and vice versa.6 Too much nitrogen can cause plants to disconnect with the mycorrhizal and this is what happens if too much nitrogen is added by chemical fertilisers, animal manure and/or biogas digestate.

There are several arguments for why you should use Standard Bio BCF products instead of fertiliser:

  • There is a big economic gain;
  • The soil will be healthier;
  • It can store more carbon;
  • All products are produced in a sustainable carbon negative modular system; and
  • Field tests have shown increases in yield of up to 60%.

References

1 IBI. 2012. Standardized product defnition and product testing guidelines for biochar that is used in soil. International Biochar Initiative, Washington

2 Elad, Y., Cytryn, E., and Meller Harel, Y. et al. 2012. The biochar effect: plant resistance to biotic stresses. Phytopathologia Mediterranea. 50, 3 335-349. https://doi.org/10.14601/Phytopathol_Mediterr-9807

3 Palansooriya, K.N., Wong, J.T.F., and Hashimoto, Y. et al. 2019. Response of microbial communities to biochar-amended soils: a critical review. Biochar 1, 3–22. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42773-019-00009-2

4 Khorram, M.S., Zhang, Q., and Lin. D. et al. 2016. a review of its impact on pesticide behavior in soil environments and its potential applications. J. Environ. Sci., 44 pp. 269-279

5 Soudzilovskaia, N.A., van Bodegom, P.M., and Terrer, C. et al. 2019. Global mycorrhizal plant distribution linked to terrestrial carbon stocks. Nature Communications; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-13019-2

6 Solaiman, Z.M., Abbott, L.K., and Murphy, D.V. 2019. Biochar phosphorus concentration dictates mycorrhizal colonisation, plant growth and soil phosphorus cycling. Sci Rep 9, 5062. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-41671-7

Ove Lerdahl
Founder/Head of product development
Standard Bio AS
+47 48 24 10 87
ove.lerdahl@standard.bio
Tweet @_Standard_Bio
www.standard.bio/

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