In November, CARE staff Daniel and Naomi set off on an 820 mile train journey across Europe. They were attending a study trip to the municipal waste facility in Baden-Baden, Germany, which has recently begun producing 'biochar' using green waste.
The European group outside of the Baden-Baden Pyreg A500 plant.
So, what is biochar?
Biochar is a high carbon form of charcoal which has multiple uses and properties. It has a highly porous structure, allowing it to retain water, improve soil structure and increase soil fertility once inoculated . Used as a feedstock for animals, biochar can reduce ammonia production and even reduce the nitrogen content of manure - which could help alleviate pollution of waterways when slurry leaches off of the land. It can also filter impurities from water, such as heavy metals... as well as many other applications.
Through a process known as pyrolysis (heating at a high temperature without oxygen), many types of biomass (wood, grasses, animal waste) can be turned into biochar, which sequesters the carbon absorbed as it grew. Biochar can lock up carbon for potentially thousands of years, and there is rising interest in it's potential as a climate change mitigation mechanism...
Why visit Baden-Baden to learn about biochar?
820 miles is a long way to go to learn about biochar! The visit was organised as part of the European THREE C project, which aims to develop and introduce economically viable value chains by turning waste biomass materials into biochar. CARE has been participating in monthly training and project development webinars run by the project, which have helped us to develop our own ideas for projects in Pembrokeshire.
The city of Baden-Baden has an advanced waste and recycling centre, using the principles of circular economy to reduce waste. The centre takes waste biomass and sewage water from the city, and turns it into useful products: compost, fuel, heat, electricity and clean water. This video explains the processes in more detail. Recently, biochar production has been added to the processes at the centre.
The Pyreg A500 continuous feed biochar 'retort' at Baden-Baden - with biochar produced from waste woodchip.
Naomi and Daniel were part of a group of people from NGOs, universities, businesses, municipalities, social enterprises and start-ups from five countries. We came together to see the system at Baden-Baden, but also to share learning, experience and to develop projects to advance the production, application and dissemination of biochar made from waste products.
How is this relevant to CARE?
In 2021, CARE started a new project - the Resilient Enterprise Programme. It aims to support the sustainable management of natural resources, build skills and generate income to benefit both biodiversity and local people.
Biochar production is just one of several social enterprises we are considering under this programme.
The trip to Baden-Baden allowed us to speak to a wide range of people from different sectors, creating time for cross-pollination of ideas, constructive criticism and new perspectives. These ideas have helped us to develop our own plans in Pembrokeshire. We hope to collaborate with some of the organisations we met in Baden-Baden over the next few weeks, months and years... watch this space!