Biochar systems across scales in Sweden
An industrial ecology perspective
Time: Fri 2022-01-14 09.00
Location: F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26 & 28, Stockholm
Video link: https://kth-se.zoom.us/w/66302184336
Subject area: Industrial Ecology
Doctoral student: Elias Azzi , Hållbar utveckling, miljövetenskap och teknik
Opponent: Professor Anders Strømman, NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Supervisor: Docent Cecilia Sundberg, Resurser, energi och infrastruktur, SLU; Dr Erik Karltun, SLU
Biochar – the carbon rich residue derived from biomass pyrolysis – is recognised as a potential solution to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while simultaneously delivering socio-environmental benefits through biochar use as a material. Perceived as a sustainable innovation, biochar has raised interest throughout the world. Sweden has witnessed a rising interest for biochar over the past decade, leading to investments in modern biochar production capacity and the development of various biochar-based products. However, as for any emerging technology, it is necessary to study its environmental performance in a systematic manner to guarantee that environmental expectations meet reality, and to enable science-based policy support.
This thesis examined the energy, climate and environmental impacts of biochar production and use, supporting on-going and future projects in Sweden. Four case studies were designed, set respectively in Stockholm, Nyköping, Helsingborg and Uppsala areas. The case studies analysed biochar production at various scales, from different biomass feedstocks, and biochar use in urban and rural applications. The main method applied was life cycle assessment, complemented with material flow analysis and energy systems modelling. In addition, a framework was developed to conceptualise and classify environmental effects of biochar in a life cycle perspective.
The results showed that biochar systems can deliver more climate change mitigation than conventional bioenergy when energy systems are already rather decarbonised and if biochar stability is high. Biochar carbon sequestration provided the main climate change benefit, but smaller additional benefits were obtained from some material uses of biochar. When compared with reference systems, biochar solutions lead to shifts of burdens between sectors and environmental impact categories. It is possible to integrate pyrolysis to both large district heating networks and decentralised heating systems, but it will lead to a net increase in biomass consumption and related environmental impacts, relative to direct combustion of biomass. In the second half of the century, the need for management of biochar-containing soil masses will arise from today’s emerging urban applications.
The case studies illustrated new uses of biochar and quantified several environmental benefits from biochar use. However, gaps remain between biochar effects present in the public discourse and their quantification in life cycle assessment. These differences were attributed to variability in the biochar effects, lack of knowledge, or inappropriate accounting framework. Overall, the thesis stresses the importance of analysing the potential of innovations to contribute to environmental goals by using parametrized life cycle models, depicting multiple contexts, and striving to identify suitability conditions rather than providing a definitive static answer.