A consortium of eight organisations, including farmer owned dairy cooperative Arla Foods UK, has been awarded funding as a part of the government’s Direct Air Capture and Greenhouse Gas Removal Technologies competition.

The project will test the feasibility of using biochar commercially in agriculture.

Biochar is a highly stable form of carbon, produced by heating biomass in a low-oxygen environment through pyrolysis.

The consortium believes that if this could be achieved and biochar became commonly used across agriculture, it could result in significant amounts of carbon being removed from the atmosphere and stored in farm soils for centuries, whilse also supporting good soil health.

The group of industrial, agricultural and research partners - led by the sustainability consultancy Sofies - seeks to transform the greenhouse gas removal market by creating the first integrated biochar network consisting of BSW, one of the largest forestry and sawmilling businesses in the UK and Arla Foods, which has 2,400 farmer owners based in the UK.

Using co-products arising from the sawmilling industry, BSW can create biochar through a process called pyrolysis.

The biochar can then be used on Arla farms, either by mixing it with slurry prior to application on fields or through bedding systems (both options will be assessed in the project).

The consortium is supported by some of the best industrial and research bodies in the UK and Germany including Newcastle University, University of Edinburgh, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), Biomacon and R&S Biomass.

Use of biochar

Alice Swift, director of agriculture at Arla Foods, commented:

We’re delighted that the potential use of biochar to capture carbon has been recognised by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

"As we have learnt through our Arla farm innovation programme, new technologies must be trialled by farmers to establish them as practical and affordable solutions.

"Financial support for farmers to do this is essential. Our consortium includes farmers, scientists, economists and multiple industries all working together.

"This integrated approach to climate solutions will play an essential part in scaling up future working practice that drive circular economies and remove carbon and other greenhouse gases at scale."