Ground Cover Supplement : GC Supplement - Soil health
19 HEALTHY SOILS GROUND COVER SOIL CARBON simultaneously reducing biochar yield and increasing the carbon concentration in the final product. An excellent fact sheet on biochar has been produced by Evelyn Krull, from CSIRO Land & Water, which is available from the CSIRO website (www.csiro.au). □ GRDC Research Code GRS153 More information: Associate Professor Daniel Murphy, soil biology group leader, University of Western Australia, 08 6488 7083, firstname.lastname@example.org NOT ALL BIOCHARS ARE EQUAL (C) 50% (C) 50% Transport Energy Co-products (oil, cosmetics) Industry (C) 100% Pyrolysis Residual heat Biochar bioenergy lifecycle Biomass • manure • organic wastes • bioenergy crops (grasses,willows) • crop residues Returned to soil as biochar Optionally, N2, NOX, SOX, CO2 can be added to increase C sink and nutrient contents Biofuel • bio-oil • hydrogen Diagram: Johannes Lehman FIGURE 1 Concept diagram of low-temperature pyrolysis bioenergy with biochar sequestration. Typically, about 50 per cent of the pyrolysed biomass is converted into biochar and can be returned to the soil The physical and chemical properties of biochar could provide Australian agriculture with a new 'green' soil amendment. TABLE 1 POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE OR UNKNOWN ATTRIBUTES OF BIOCHAR AS REPORTED IN INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE POSITIVE NEGATIVE OR UNKNOWN Reduces greenhouse gas emissions Carbon negative energy source Soil conditioner and microbe habitat Long-term environmental and agronomic benefits Enhances soil fertility, nutrient bioavailability, soil water retention and crop productivity Increases microbial activity in soil and colonisation of plant roots by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi Biochar products are not all the same -- their quality depends on the source of organic biomass used Yield increases and decreases have been recorded Potential environmental risks for ecosystems are unknown Economic viability is unknown Health hazards are unknown User guidelines are not well developed PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA INVESTING IN BIOCHAR The GRDC is currently investing in biochar research through two PhD-funded scholarships and collaborative research between CSIRO Land & Water, the University of Western Australia and the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA. The aim of these projects is to develop fundamental understanding of biochar and, in doing so, identify implications and opportunities for the grains industry. Two additional investments are planned. One project will assess the physical and economic properties of a range of biochars, the second will research how biochars function in cropping soils. The outcomes from this research investment should enable growers to make informed decisions regarding the potential use of biochar to increase crop productivity and to address soil nutrient deficiencies. In these projects a range of biochar materials that vary in their nutrient content and chemical characteristics will be generated and characterised. Subsequent application of these biochar materials at different rates to laboratory, glasshouse, lysimeter and field trials will enable their nutrient release/retention characteristics and their impact on plant growth to be assessed. Information will also be gathered from detailed laboratory studies on the interaction between biochar and soil biological processes as it has been proposed that the biochar materials provide a habitat for soil organisms, which may be of benefit in soils with low clay content. As an output of this research, a web-based calculator to assess the effect of biochar on crop productivity will be developed and included on the soil quality website (www.soilquality.org.au).
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