Sofies celebrates victory in BEIS competition enabling the start of biochar innovation project to explore greenhouse gas removal for Arla’s farmer owners

Publications
7 June 2021

A group of industrial, agricultural and research partners, led by Sofies have been awarded funding as a part of the UK government’s Direct Air Capture and Greenhouse Gas Removal Technologies competition. The project will test the feasibility of using biochar commercially in agriculture.

Our goal is to transform the greenhouse gas removal market at pace by creating the first inte- grated 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 Direct Air Capture and Greenhouse Gas Removal Technologies competition is run by Depart- ment of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and sits as part of the government’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. As one of 24 projects in Phase One of the competition, the consortium will now move to identify roughly ten Arla farms to help develop the concept of a low cost biochar network and assess the feasibility of the idea. If the feasibility study is deemed successful, BEIS will award the project Phase Two status, where the system would be funded by BEIS and demon- strated on farms. Phase Two is expected to begin in the first half of 2022.

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 & Hydrology (UKCEH), Biomacon and R&S Biomass. We believe that the reason for the commercial failure of biochar to date largely boils down to the business model, not the technology.

Alice Swift, Director of Agriculture at Arla Foods, comments, “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 so- lutions will play an essential part in scaling up future working practice that drive circular econo- mies and remove carbon and other greenhouse gases at scale.”

The biochar used in this ground-breaking project will be manufactured using wood chips from the UK’s largest integrated forestry and sawmilling business, BSW Timber. BSW is the largest producer of sawn timber products in the country and utilises the whole log, with co-products – the bark, chip, sawdust and shavings – ensuring nothing goes to waste.

Tilhill, the UK’s leading forestry management company, is part of the BSW Group. Tilhill’s Manag- ing Director Gavin Adkins comments: “We’re particularly excited to be part of this project as it rounds off what is now a completely circular offering. We often work alongside farmers to plant trees on their land and manage those woodlands to sequester carbon, and once those trees have reached maturity and been harvested we can now use the co-products – in this case the wood chip – to add carbon back to the land in the form of biochar. This is an important first step and one we already hope can be replicated on a larger scale, with the backing of our expertise and many manufacturing sites across the country.”

Arla owner and farmer David McMiken comments, “Most Arla Farmers are already measuring their carbon footprint through Arla’s Climate Check programme with the data showing Arla farm- ers produce milk with around half the emissions of global dairy production. Game changing inno- vations such as biochar will be welcomed by farmers providing they are affordable to work with. Personally, I welcome this approach from the Government which could have significant impact in bridging the gap between the potential of new technologies and the economic realities of farm- ing. After all, at the heart of most farmers is the desire to produce the best possible food made in the most sustainable way so that the land is looked after for the generations of farmers to come.”

Arla farmers can find out more information through the Arla owners website and can register support at farming@arla.co.uk. For journalists of other readers who would like to know more, please contact Alex Clarke at alexander.clarke@sofiesgroup.com

Photography credit: Paroonkorm Srichan/ Shutterstock.com

 


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