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A milestone for biochar in the EU

NEWS The newly accepted EU ruling on fertilizing products represents a big leap forward in the biochar economy.

NEWS

In this post, we would like to delve deeper into a few aspects, namely what effects the decision could have on c-sink markets, which have – until now – been extremely limited by the current regulations.  

New ruling represents huge milestone for the future of biochar in the EU

The European commission has adapted Draft Act 2019/1009. This milestone initiative officially enables the use of biochar as a fertilizing product in the EU. The implementation of the regulation will remove one of the biochar markets’ biggest hurdles to date: restrictions as a result of the currently prescribed biomass compositions.

Why is this such good news?

Most obviously, the updated list replaces the contents of the old regulation, which did not cover fertilizers made from recovered or organic materials. The inclusion of organic waste- and byproducts not only acts as a door opener for effective circular economy concepts in agriculture but also entails far-reaching positive effects from scalability boosts over price reductions (due to cheaper input materials that would otherwise end up unused or incinerated), opening up completely new project opportunities in the carbon sink market.

At second glance, the ruling offers more positive outcomes as well as leaving further room for improvement: The Commission’s Joint Research Centre (’JRC’) assessment report, which the regulation is based on, concludes that there is an “existing and growing market demand for pyrolysis and gasification materials, and that those materials are likely to be used to provide nutrient inputs to European agriculture.” This recognition of an increasing demand for biochar as well as the additional benefits it can offer to ecosystems, supports its importance as an efficient and cost-effective carbon sink.

Voices such as that of Dirk Münch, Director of Impact funds and Ventures at South Pole, one of the world’s largest developers of international climate protection projects, are predicting carbon to become “one of the largest commodities in the world”. Combined with recent reports of multinational tech company Microsoft contracting 1.3 million mt of carbon offsets alone, the need to open up supply sources for carbon sinks cannot be overstated.  

One critical remark that could be made in this instance, is that the ruling does not yet include sewage sludge in its list of permitted materials. Supporting the argument that a wider range of sources will be needed to meet growing demand, all scientifically proven and effective methods that fulfill agricultural requirements, should be included in the list of materials allowed in fertilizer products.

Spotlight: Going Circular with Carbon

Apart from generally widening the impact potential of c-sink markets, the ruling also offers advancements regarding circularity potential of the agricultural practices used to create biochar and the c-sinks that follow.

As layed out in our White Paper, the most ideal carbon sink creation is given when implementing synergy or carbon cascade methods. These begin by using material over decades and end with the creation of permanent carbon sinks, enabling a closed-loop cycle. Mirroring this circularity, the efficacy of biochar as a C-sink is highest, when following a waste to value pathway. An ideal lifecycle could therefore look as follows: organic waste, byproducts or other organic material gets converted into biochar, which is then used to filter wastewater from a food processing plant (following analysis ensuring that the material can be safely applied for agricultural usage), thereby enriching the biochar and cleansing the water. Following this, the saturated biochar is applied as a slow-release fertilizer or fertilizer component, e.g., combined with rock dust, which also binds CO2 by decomposition. Further along its circular journey, the end product can continue its value-adding properties by not only having enabled carbon removal but, simultaneously, ameliorating the agricultural context in which it is applied. This can include the improvement of soil quality, its water retention capacity, drought resistance and even yield increase, if used correctly.

Processes, such as the one just described, therefore prolong the lifespan of their individual input materials, give added value to their end usage and are themselves in turn supported – or in this case even made possible in the first place – by the improvement of legal frameworks, such as the EU ruling.

These legally defined measures not only represent practical benefits but can also signal a move towards an entire economy that is no longer thought of in purely linear terms (make-take-waste approach), but in cycles. It has become evident, that in order for climate solutions to scale to real climate impact, they need to be tackled from a political aspect as well as on a business level.

With Draft Act 2019/1009 being directly implemented as a regulation, i.e., legally binding and directly applicable in every member state, we at carbonfuture, acknowledge this step as a big milestone. With our work, we want to assist all current and future biochar producers as well as projects that aim to follow along this innovative path.

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