Prospects for Biochar in a Bio-Waste Cascade

In the early 2000s the pre-Columbian, anthropologically produced black soil in the Amazon basin, „Terra Preta de Índio“, received greater scientific attention. Compared to the surrounding poor soils, this very fertile anthrosol contains significantly higher levels of microorganisms and nutrients. The reason for this was determined to be the likewise high levels of charred biomass. This stable carbon, now called biochar, has since been intensively examined as an option to improve soil and to store carbon. Although the creation of Terra Preta was most likely based on a purposeful utilization of organic residues from households and gardens, biochar plays no role in the current recycling of bio-waste. However, the implementation of biochar could lead to many improvements. Results from agricultural research suggest that not only the yield capacity of soils can be increased but also the process performance of composting and biogas plants. The latter is especially relevant since currently about 40% of all collected bio-waste in Germany is recycled in an energy-material cascade consisting of anaerobic digestion and composting. The use of biochar in this cascade could then sequentially increase biogas yields, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve compost quality. To realize the aforementioned advantages, the concept of biochar has to be integrated into the existing bio-waste cascade as practically as possible. This was done by the development of a theoretical scenario that allowed the analysis of energy and material flows to evaluate biochar’s recycling performance. Furthermore, the legal and economic framework were examined to assess the feasibility of the extended cascade and to suggest possible adjustments to the frameworks.


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