Biochar in Europe

by Claudia Kammann and Hans-Peter Schmidt


Biochar (or rather charcoal) production and agricultural use is an ancient tradition in Europe dating back hundreds to thousands of years. However, as in the US, large-scale biochar industry is in its infancy in Europe. Currently biochar production is largely restricted to medium- and smaller-scale, which sums up in 2014 to a total of 10.000 t per year.

Direct soil use is legal in Switzerland and Austria to date, as long as it is certified according to the the European Biochar Certificate (EBC); in Germany the use of “charcoal” is legal, however, without a clear definition of what “charcoal” exactly is. The economic use is largely restricted to the production of special horticultural substrates or nutrient-rich soil enhancers where the biochar has been pre-loaded with nutrients and has subsequently been aged by co-composting.

However, the predominant biochar implementation pathway that ultimately delivers biochar to soils is currently the cascading use in animal husbandry. In particular in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, the use of biochar in animal husbandry is implemented by small-to-medium scale farmers, and rapidly spreads by word-of-mouth recommendation, while scientific studies are largely lacking. First statistics suggest that bad odor, ammonia and methane emissions can be reduced in animal barns, feed efficiency increases and animal health improves to the point where veterinary costs are considerably reduced. In animal husbandry biochar is used as an ingredient in probiotic animal feed (“CarbonFeed”), as silage additive, bedding material, or manure and slurry conditioner (together with lactobacilli).

Replacing high priced activated carbon, biochar is also used as medical treatment (e.g. to treat Clostridium botulinum infections). The cascading use of biochar, where it has paid its price by performing other services before it gets into the soil, is economically more viable than direct field application and seems actually the most promising pathway of biochar into European soils.

(Claudia Kammann & Hans-Peter Schmidt)

comments

  • Tom Peters,
    28.03.2019 22:09

    EU Biochar demand for animal feed

    I've read many studies indicating that high quality biochar in animal feed reduces mortality rates, makes cows healthier and even improves the quality of milk. Given these excellent results, one would think that every major dairy farm in Europe would be having it compounded into their feed. But I understand that's not the case. What are the obstacles to market adoption? In one article by the same authors, I read that 90% of the biochar produced in the EU is used in animal husbandry on small to medium sized farms. My question is, 90% of what volume and why only on small to medium sized farms? Why aren't larger farms using it? Is the market supply constrained or as yet uneducated? I've seen no market size or demand estimates for biochar's potential when used in animal husbandry and gross numbers for biochar consumption in the EU, without respect to quality or application, appear to be pretty small. Is this because such a low percentage of biochar is required in the feed to create the positive results mentioned? If there are 55 uses, it would appear that the EU demand should be higher than 35,000 tons/yr. It would be helpful if a paper were written that forecasts the potential size of the emerging markets for biochar in the EU and a growth or consumption rate so that Investors and technology manufacturers, toll houses, etc. can gauge the strength of the market and its requirement for capital in order to expand to meet the growing demand. Most of what I've seen in print to date appears to be academic, technical and research oriented rather than market oriented. Does such a market oriented paper exist?

  • Hans-Peter,
    29.03.2019 07:16

    BC in EU

    This blog is more than 4 years old, so the data are not quite valid anymore. The total amount of biochar fed to animals steadily increased and also bigger industrial producers opt for biochar containing feed. However, compared to the total market, it is still small (but with steady growth since more than 5 years).

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