Biochar: implications for agricultural productivity

Download the report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

This report presents findings of a desktop review into biochar, covering potential applications, benefits, costs and risks, and future research required to realise the agricultural productivity improvement and environmental sustainability potential of biochar. This report focuses on production and application of biochar to soils to improve soil function and the ancillary benefits that may arise. Use of biochar as a way to abate greenhouse gases and sequester carbon is discussed in only general terms.

Biochar production options are discussed to highlight feedstock biomass sources and production conditions that maximise biochar production for agricultural purposes. The report describes biochar characteristics required to maximise agricultural productivity, followed by a detailed description of the potential benefits of biochar additions to plant and animal productivity. The potential of biochar for carbon sequestration and waste management is also discussed briefly. Finally, potential risks, barriers and limitations to biochar application are discussed and knowledge gaps for future research identified.

No standards exist that prescribe the composition or preparation of biochar to distinguish it from charcoal produced as a fuel source. Within this report, biochar is defined as a carbonaceous material produced for application to agricultural land as part of agronomic or environmental management; while the terms char and charcoal are used to describe a carbonaceous material for no specific end use. To ensure production of safe biochar products that are sustainably generated (carbon negative), minimum quality standards need to be developed to minimise the risks to agricultural productivity and the environment of inappropriate use of biochar.

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