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Biochar professorships set up

Biochar professorships set up

The establishment of two bio-char professorships at Massey University is another important step on the path towards New Zealand becoming a low-carbon nation, Forestry Minister Jim Anderton said today.

"This initiative will fund two professorships, one focused on biochar and its behaviour in New Zealand soils, and one on processing of biomass feedstock into biochar, known as pyrolysis." Jim Anderton said.

Pyrolysis is combustion in the absence of oxygen - the process used to make charcoal.

"Biochar is a stable form of carbon that can be incorporated in soil as permanent carbon store. This would potentially create a major carbon sink that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through plant growth and stores it as inert carbon in soils," Jim Anderton said.

Biochar also has potential to suppress nitrous oxide emissions and reduce nitrate leaching into waterways. It can also be used to make a bioenergy co-product that can be used to produce heating, electricity generation and other applications.

Massey University was successful in securing the professorship positions in the face of high quality competition from Auckland, Canterbury, Lincoln, and Waikato universities. Funding for the initiative comes for the Government's investment initiatives under the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Plan of Action, and is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Jim Anderton said a key outcome the Government was seeking was for these positions to attract high calibre individuals who can develop a world-class centre of excellence in biochar research and use.

While there are significant opportunities for soil carbon sequestration using biochar, further research is needed on a number of issues, including:
- how long the biochar stays fixed in the soil
- the ability to quantify its effects in order to create a reliable product for farmers
- assurance of biochar's carbon-fixing capacity for the carbon trading market
- evaluation of how the use of biochar would fit within the framework of New Zealand's inventory and the Kyoto Protocol

As well as climate change mitigation opportunities, biochar applications in soil can lift agricultural productivity. The effectiveness of biochar in soils is dependent on matching different types of biochar to specific soil types and plant growth regimes.

"It will take extensive applied research and trialling to optimise biochar performance in New Zealand soils, and these professorships will provide the catalyst for this work," Jim Anderton said.


ENDS

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