The economic viability and prospects for biochar in Europe: Shifting paradigms in uncertain times

Simon Shackley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Biochar is one of the most intriguing ideas to have emerged in the maelstrom of thinking and dialogue surrounding climate change and carbon reduction in the past two decades. It also happens to be one of the most complex - a heady and often confusing brew of soil science, bio-resources, agronomy, carbon markets, bioenergy technology, regulations and climate change negotiations. Yet, the harsh reality is that producing and applying biochar in European agricultural soils at application rates of several tonnes per hectare across large hectarage from virgin or non-amended organic feedstocks is not economic now or in the foreseeable future. The reasons for this seemingly bold statement are the following: 1 The feedstocks are expensive, with wood pellets trading in European markets at €120 per tonne, straw selling for €50 to €100 per tonne; forestry residues are available but expensive to collect up from the forest site where they are generated, etc. Since, as an approximation, three tonnes of feedstock are required for each tonne of biochar produced, the feedstock costs alone are from €150 to €500 per tonne of biochar. By comparison, synthetic fertilisers cost around €250 to €350 per tonne. Once we factor in the capital, operational and maintenance costs entailed in biochar production, not to mention the expected rate of return on investment, the break-even cost of the biochar is likely to be at least double the feedstock cost.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBiochar in European Soils and Agriculture
Subtitle of host publicationScience and Practice
PublisherTaylor and Francis AS
Pages205-226
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781134654871
ISBN (Print)9780415711661
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

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