Biochar expert stresses on the importance of practicality in net zero transition

By Staff
6 Min Read

Robert Johnson, Research and Development Manager at Arigna Fuels, highlighted the multitude of biochar applications during this week’s episode of the Net Hero Podcast.

He said: ‘We’ve proven that the technology is here unlike something like Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), we have something that is already here and it works.

‘And the markets for biochar are growing exponentially. In Europe alone, the market was about 120,000 tonnes of biochar last year and the year before that, it was just 55,000 tonnes.’

Mr Johnson told us that Ireland is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. 

He said: ‘In Ireland, there are still hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fossil fuels sold and burned every year, in particular, solid fuels.

‘There was a statistic we saw recently that there are about 1.2 million chimneys in Ireland still being used. They still exist in a lot of households, new builds less so. 

‘But this is moving. The fossil fuel industry, as we all know, is in decline. So people are transitioning over to biomass fuels but I don’t think it’s going to go away completely.

‘I mean it is a pretty economical way to heat your house, especially for those budgeting. And it is easier to budget on a weekly basis if you’re buying a bag of fuel as opposed to the economies of scale with buying oil.’

Mr Johnson told us that his company, Arigna Fuels, has made a biochar briquette to replace fossil fuels.

He said: ‘Biochar is a carbon-rich residue that you get from heating up biomass or organic materials in the absence of oxygen.

‘What we make is called Harvest Flame and it is a hundred per cent biomass briquette made from thermally processing olive stones that we import from the Mediterranean.

‘It is more similar to biomass than it is to coal in that the heat value of coal is very high and biomass is half than that of coal. So we are getting a third of the way compared to the heating value of coal at this stage.

‘We use olive stones because they’re very dense so when we ship it from the Mediterranean, the carbon footprint of that is less than that of the trucks that bring it from the port to the processors.

‘And olive stones are particularly good because they’re a by-product from the agriculture industry. And in terms of the economic value, most of that is in the flesh or the oil so the carbon footprint of the stone is very low because it is a subsidiary product. 

‘The reason we don’t use wood for this is that our process is limited by volume so the more you can get into it, the better. And wood is very low in density.’

Robert Johnson believes that it is important to transition in a pragmatic way. 

He said: ‘I believe in net zero, I believe in drawing carbon down and sequestering carbon. I personally believe that the future is biochar, it’s not combustion. 

‘So even the product we’re using now, the Harvest Flame, is an intermediary product. Ultimately, we’re looking to be a carbon negative company. 

‘The company initially manufactured 1.2-1.3 million tonnes of fossil fuels to this stage. The transition for us then is to avoid carbon by having a fully renewable and sustainable product which is the Harvest Flame. 

‘But the next phase is to find the markets for the biochar that we can produce and have the capacity to produce. 

‘We have the capacity for 70,000 tonnes a year of biomass. We can potentially produce 28,000 tonnes of biochar out of that. And that would sequester 70,000 tonnes of CO2 every year from that material alone.’

Watch the full podcast below and don’t forget to register to the Big Zero Show on more technologies that can help you go net zero.

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