Transcript of the Biochar video

​This eight minute video was produced to communicate the outcomes of the Climate Change Research Program from the National Biochar Initiative. It provides information to help land managers understand possible ways they can use biochar to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil health.  This research has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector.

Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry
Transcript - Biochar Video (Final) – Biochar: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil health

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Biochar Research [8:07]  

14 June 2012

Transcript

  1. Voice over:
    An ancient method for improving soil is being resurrected in Australia and is showing potential for storing carbon mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and improving agricultural soils. The ancient soil additive that is attracting a lot of attention is a special type of charcoal known as biochar.

    Dr Lukas van Zwieten, Senior Research Scientist, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries:
    Actually the history of biochar goes back thousands of years where it was used by the Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Amazon region where they applied cooking charcoal and pottery kiln charcoal into their agricultural plots. It wasn't until, I guess, more recently that science has started to catch up with what they've done and there was research on the Terra Preta soils of the Amazon and from that there was interest in looking at the application of charcoal or biochar into agricultural soils as an amendment.

  2. Voice over:
    The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry provided funding for this biochar research conducted by the CSIRO and the NSW Department of Primary Industries and other research partners.

    Dr Evelyn Krull, Research Team Leader, Carbon and Nutrient Cycling, CSIRO:
    Biochar is a purpose-produced charcoal that can be made from a range of organic materials. We only use waste materials, so materials that don't have any additional use to the soil.

    Well, our research in biochar is related to agriculture as well as carbon sequestration and we're looking at the properties of different biochar, how they interact with different soils and how that affects crop productivity, and if biochars can be used to mitigate climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

  3. Voice over:
    Not all biochars are the same. They each have different properties that will deliver different results to various soil and farm circumstances.   

    Dr Evelyn Krull, Research Team Leader, Carbon and Nutrient Cycling, CSIRO:
    The reason why we are looking at such a large number of biochars and analysing them for the different properties is because the different properties of biochar such as water holding capacity, cat ion exchange capacity, the inherent nutrient for example nitrogen phosphorous as well as ph, can be important when these biochars are applied to agriculture in terms of helping to enhance the productivity of the soil.

    Other measures including carbon content and the stability of the biochars are more relevant to carbon sequestration, particularly the longevity of the biochars - how long they can last in the soil.

  4. Voice over:
    Biochar is produced from heating natural organic materials such as wood chips, crop waste or manure in a high temperature, low oxygen process known as pyrolysis.

    Dr Adriana Downie, Chief Technology Officer, Pacific Pyrolysis Pty Ltd:
    So in the pyrolysis process when we're producing the biochar to convert the biomass to biochar, we get an off gas called syngas. So an important aspect of the technology is to efficiently use that gas as a renewable energy source.

  5. Voice over:
    Biochars produced from animal manures, council green waste, rice husk materials as well as a range of agricultural residues such as sugarcane residue are being field tested at a number of locations in NSW.

    Dr Lukas van Zwieten, Senior Research Scientist, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries:
    We've got a range of field sites at Wollongbar, looking at impacts on productivity in pasture and mixed cropping and some of the research we're doing is investigating impacts of the biochar on soil chemistry and soil biology, but more importantly we're looking at the impacts on nitrous oxide emissions from the soil.

    Nitrous oxide is a significant greenhouse gas which arises following application of nitrogen fertiliser to the soil and it's round about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a green house gas. As nitrogen gets lost into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide it means that there's less nitrogen available for the crops in the soil.

  6. Voice over:
    Some of the trial plots are accumulating a significant amount of carbon in the soil. In the best case scenario, around 40 tonnes of CO2 equivalent has been stored in some of these soils after we have added the biochar.

    Dr Evelyn Krull, Research Team Leader, Carbon and Nutrient Cycling, CSIRO:
    I think we're all looking for a 'silver bullet’ to reduce the effects of climate change. Unfortunately biochar is not a silver bullet. Biochar should be part of a strategy to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions, so it's an important component of that, but unless we reduce our overall emissions, biochar application itself will do little to mitigate climate change.

  7. Voice over:
    NSW North Coast coffee grower Jos Webber, is starting to see some results from biochar research on his plantation. Jos planted his original coffee plantation at Tintenbar eight years ago and 18 months ago started testing two different types of biochar.

    Mr Jos Webber, Coffee Producer, Kahawa Coffee Estate, Tintenbar, New South Wales:
    Yes we're standing in a three-year-old coffee plantation at Kahawa estate near Tintenbar in northern NSW. We've got about ten per cent of this small plantation under trial to try biochar with the NSW DPI. It's very much experimental use where they're testing biochar against a number of agricultural products and this one focuses on coffee. Two different types of biochar are being trialled here. One is poultry biochar with compost, the second group is rice hull biochar, the poultry char is a locally made char, then the third group has just got compost alone and the fourth group has no treatment at all.

    We applied it in a metre band along the rows, about a kg per square metre, I think is the application rate and then we covered that with compost to keep it from blowing away. The best time to apply biochar when you're establishing a coffee plantation is right at the beginning when you are preparing the soil before you do your planting. We tend to plant our coffee on mounds so as you're mounding it up and ripping up the soil that would be the time to apply the char, incorporate it into the soil. It's a once only application and it's there, Lukas tells me, for a thousand years.

  8. Voice over:
    After about a year, Jos began to see quite a difference in each treatment group.

    Mr Jos Webber, Coffee Producer, Kahawa Coffee Estate, Tintenbar, New South Wales:
    We measured the height of the trees to see if there was any effect on how well they'd grown and it appeared that those that had got the poultry biochar were actually doing the best and not unexpectedly, those that got no treatment at all, not even any compost, were doing the poorest. Our trees are three years old and we won't get a commercial crop until they're fours years old. That's when we will really be able to make some definitive measures to see how the various treatments have worked.

    Well, I think those same principles I was talking about, about improved soil structure, improved moisture-holding capacity will really apply to any horticultural situation or any pasture situation where the biochar is applied. 

    Dr Evelyn Krull, Research Team Leader, Carbon and Nutrient Cycling, CSIRO:
    So if farmers want to consider applying biochar they need to make sure that they get a good quality biochar product from a reputable producer, it needs to be targeted to their specific conditions, but they also have to be aware that currently the cost of biochar can be prohibitive but hopefully this cost will come down with the introduction of a carbon price.

  9. Voice over:
    Biochar is also being trialled with other crops including sugar cane, macadamias, rice and avocados.

    This research has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector.