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Heating plant biomass in the absence of oxygen, known as pyrolysis, produces a mixture of solid residue known as biochar, liquid bio-oil and gas, primarily a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as syngas. The exact proportion of each of the three products depends on the temperature the biomass is heated at and for how long: heating briefly at high temperatures (above 700°C) produces mainly bio-oil and gas, while heating at lower temperatures (400–500°C) for longer produces more biochar.
All three products have their uses, however. The syngas and bio-oil can be converted into various liquid fuels and industrial chemicals, while the biochar can be used as a solid fuel (indeed, it is basically just charcoal) or as an additive to improve soil quality. In addition, scientists have recently discovered that mixing the biochar and bio-oil together also produces a very good fuel, known as bioslurry.
It may have a rather unattractive name, but bioslurry offers an elegant solution to a problem that has long bedevilled bio-oil, which is that converting bio-oil into a useable liquid fuel is currently an expensive and time-consuming process. In contrast, mixing bio-oil with biochar offers a much simpler way to utilize it as a fuel, with the resultant bioslurry able to replace coal in power stations.