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Research contract for fight against climate change

Date 27/2/08

Research contract step forward in fight against climate change

Two new academic positions focused on exploring the uses of fine charcoal known as “bio-char” in the fight against greenhouse gases and climate change have been formally established, with the signing of a contract between the Massey University and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).

The contract was signed today by the Director-General of MAF, Murray Sherwin and Massey University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Judith Kinnear.

Massey University fought off high quality competition from, other universities to win the positions. One of the professorships will focus on biochar and its behaviour in New Zealand soils, and the other on the conversion of biomass feedstock into biochar by a process known as pyrolysis, which is combustion in the absence of oxygen – the process used to make charcoal. 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 MAF.

Biochar is a stable form of carbon that can be incorporated in soil as permanent carbon store, which MAF’s Director-General Murray Sherwin says 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.

“Biochar also has exciting potential to reduce nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching into waterways,” Mr Sherwin says. “It may also be used to make a bioenergy co-product that can be used to produce heating, electricity generation and other applications.” As well as climate change mitigation opportunities, he says biochar applications in soil can lift agricultural productivity. The effectiveness of biochar in soils depends on matching different types of biochar to specific soil types and plant growth regimes.

Further research and trialling on a number of issues is required before the full potential of biochar can be realised, which is why MAF is funding these two professorships. Areas requiring further investigation included how long the biochar stays fixed in the soil, the ability to quantify its effects in order to create a reliable product for farmers, and - assurance of biochar’s carbon-fixing capacity for the carbon trading market.

Mr Sherwin says biochar also needed to be evaluated in terms of how its use would fit within the framework of New Zealand’s inventory and the Kyoto Protocol.


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