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Implementing biochar-fertilizer solution in Norway for climate and food production benefits

Alternative title: Biokullgjødsel som en vinn-vinn-løsning for klima og matproduksjon i Norge.

Awarded: NOK 21.0 mill.

Norway needs to drastically reduce its GHG emissions. One way to do this is to increase carbon sequestration in soils, which are the largest reservoir of terrestrial carbon. Relatively small changes in soil carbon content can have an amplified mitigation effect on the Earth?s climate. Large-scale conversion of agricultural and forest waste biomass to biochar is considered the activity with the largest potential for soil carbon sequestration in Norway. For the Norwegian farmer, biochar presents the large advantage of curbing GHG emissions in agriculture without negatively affecting production, which continued to be an important debate in 2020. However, despite the convincing benefits of biochar as a climate mitigation solution, biochar was still mostly at the research stage by 2018, when we started the CARBO-FERTIL project. CARBO-FERTIL has identified several key reasons for this situation, and is actively developing solutions. In short, we need improved production methods associated to profitable value chains, improved products, and a road map for implementing biochar as an official carbon sequestration method in Norway. Regarding knowledge need of the industry and the agricultural sector, CARBO-FERTIL was instrumental in setting up the Norwegian Biochar Network in 2019 and continues mapping and disseminating available technologies and agricultural applications. The project is also working on improving the agricultural value of biochar products made from Norwegian feedstocks, notably by investigating their ability to increase the efficiency of nutrient delivery to plants. Compared to other methods for soil C sequestration, our research suggests that biochar fertilizer has the unique potential to also reduce emissions of the greenhouse-gas N2O. The development of a road map for biochar in Norway benefited from the inclusion of biochar as a reportable mitigation measure in the 2019 guidelines of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); a process to which CARBO-FERTIL contributed. In light of policy and technical advances, we are now evaluating different biochar-deployment scenarios that will improve our national GHG inventories and benefit the Norwegian agricultural sector.

The land sector in Norway, including agriculture and forestry, must critically contribute to the national target of 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emission by 2030. However, many mitigation measures might negatively impact food production and economic activity. Looking for alternative solutions, large-scale conversion of agricultural and forest waste biomass to biochar for soil C sequestration is in theory the activity with the largest potential for climate mitigation from the agricultural and land sector in Norway. However, despite the convincing benefits of biochar as a climate mitigation solution, it has not yet advanced much beyond research stage, notably because its effect on yield are too modest. In CARBO-FERTIL we will develop the innovations in pyrolysis and nutrient-rich waste recycling leading to biochar-fertilizer products as win-win solution for C-storage and food production. We will further evaluate this solution in terms of: 1) economic merit in the agricultural sector, including value chains and effect on subsidies 2) climate change mitigation benefits for Norway, through climate impact analysis, and 3) the need for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) systems and policies for large-scale biochar deployment in light of Norway's commitments to the Paris agreement. This ambitious analysis will be conducted in tight interactions with multiple stakeholders, resulting in accelerated process for reducing GHG emission in Norway with biochar technology, which is beneficial to industry, farmers and responds to the need of our national climate policy.

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