Thursday 25 June 2015
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Biochar Production in Tasmania

[10.32 a.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, one of my constituents is leading the way in Tasmania in researching the production and use of biochar.  That word is receiving a lot of publicity amid concerns about increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  What is biochar?  The full answer is complicated but Dr Evelyn Krull, from the CSIRO, put it simply in an ABC science interview.  I quote:

Biochar is a type of charcoal produced by the conversion of biomass or feedstock to a charred product under oxygen-limited conditions in a reactor, a process known as pyrolysis.  An advantage of this process is that is also produces gases that can be captured as bioenergy and fed back into the energy grid, making it a carbon-negative process overall.  Char is one the most stable, biologically produced, carbon sources that we can add to soil.

Why is it not being used more widely?  I believe it soon will be and so does my constituent, Frank Strie, known to my colleagues here.  He is a trained forester who is experimenting with biochar production, using a variety of kilns, including one mounted on wheels so it can be easily taken to a fuel source, having displayed some of these pyrolysis kilns at this year's Agfest.

I believe the member for Elwick had an invitation to attend last weekend's exhibition in my electorate.

Mrs Taylor - Frank is part of a worldwide movement on biochar and in mid-summer in the northern hemisphere there is a world biochar day.  Frank took part in this last Sunday at Rosevears and did a biochar exhibition. 

Mr PRESIDENT - I have allowed you time on.

Mr FINCH - We should have done a double act on this, member for Elwick.  I was unable to attend because I was in bed with the flu.

Biochar can be potentially tailored to different soil types and uses, but a lot more research needs to be done on how biochar performs under the different soil types used in agricultural production.  Apparently biochar works best in degraded soils, like most of Australia, rather than in young soils of high fertility, as in places like Europe.  Frank Strie has experimented with adding fertiliser to biochar.  A slurry of animal manure is used to douse the hot biochar in the kiln; the biochar then absorbs the nutrients for slow release in the soil.  This Tasmanian product has been scientifically tested in Germany and found to be a well-balanced fertiliser and soil improver.  A recent CSIRO report found there was a global potential for one billion tonnes of carbon a year to be sequestered using biochar within 30 years.

Biochar is not exactly new in Tasmania.  During several periods in the last century it was produced for other purposes.  Wood was burnt in pits in the bush, covered by a layer of soil to limit oxygenation.  These were called 'charcoal pits.'  A number of tall stone kilns were built for this purpose and the charcoal was then usually sold as fuel.  Also, during the petrol shortages in World War II, charcoal from the forest pits was burnt in gas generators on vehicle roofs and piped into carburettors.  Mr President, I know you will not remember these gas producers, but our parents surely would have seen them.  They were quite a common sight in Hobart in the early 1940s.

We are now looking at biochar mainly for agriculture and carbon sequestration.  Biochar can be produced from a large variety of materials such as vine and other prunings and forest residue.  Anything that has been grown and will burn is suitable.  Much research needs to be done and Frank Strie is helping that in his own way.  It is a potential industry for Tasmania and I hope the State Government will do all it can to promote biochar.  It is very important for the research to continue and for us to promote it.