Trial will investigate if biochar is "green bullet" for forestry and environment

Researchers will assess whether enriching soils with biochar will boost thousands of trees being planted in the Scottish Highlands - potentially benefiting the forestry industry while locking up tonnes of carbon in the soil.

Image: Allie Caulfield (CC BY 2.0)
Image: Allie Caulfield (CC BY 2.0)

The four-year trial, run by the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences and Forest Research, will monitor how biochar made from pyrolised forestry waste affects the establishment, growth and health of young trees at a site near Loch Ness.

Leader of the School's UK Biochar Research Centre Dr Saran Sohi said: "Carbon remains sequestered in biochar for centuries, so its sustainable production could be a powerful tool in the fight against climate change."

He added: "Biochar can be made from almost any type of dry biomass, including waste materials, so it could be an enormous opportunity for 'closed-loop' resource management."

Forest Research senior scientist Dr Mike Perks added: "Forestry in Scotland it is concentrated on upland, nutrient-poor soils where new trees can be slow to establish.

"Every year, wood processing produces about a million tonnes of phosphorus-rich byproduct that could be used to make biochar instead of being sold as low-value mulch for horticulture. Biochar could help soil carbon recover faster, improve planting success, reduce the need for additional fertiliser during establishment and add value to the industry as an additional product."

PhD student Hamish Creber, who is overseeing the test site, said: "Our initial results indicate that seedlings grown in soil with biochar are more effective at capturing and using light, which is an indicator for overall tree health."

According to the project webpage, "Improvements in tree growth and limiting phosphorus deficiency in conifer seedlings, using high native and infused P biochars, has the potential to compensate for soil P loss through timber removal and soil disturbance."

The project will also study nutrient transfer pathways between ectomycorrizal fungi and biochars in Scots pine seedlings, to see whether the two in tandem can reduce nitrogen loss through leaching.

The research is part of a wider NERC-funded project, Soils Research to deliver Greenhouse Gas Removals and Abatement Technologies (Soils-R-GGREAT), intended to assess strategies for soil-based greenhouse gas removal.


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