NZBRC update

Prof. Marta Camps-Arbestain has provided the following summary on current biochar related work taking place at NZBRC, Massey. Please contact Marta if you are interested in finding out more on any of these activities.

PhD student: Stanislav Garbuz

PhD research topic: Linking soil functional biodiversity and processes to ecosystem services. The research explores the dynamic link between functional diversity of soil biota, organic matter quantity and quality, soil biochemical processes, and provision of ecosystem services in allophanic and non-allophanic soils with and without biochar amendment through a combination of field studies and meso-cosm experiments.

PhD supervisors: Maria Minor, Marta Camps-Arbestain, Alec Mackay

PhD student: Chao Kong

PhD research topic: Formulation of artificial soils (Technosols) intended to optimise cropping under aridic conditions. Technosols will be made of sand, so that the capillary rise of water and salts to the soil surface is impaired, along with biochar and other materials as ingredients aiming at alleviating salinity stress to plants. The PhD student will also investigate the use of halophytes to extract salts from with saline water

PhD supervisors: Marta Camps-Arbestain, Qinhua Shen, Brent Clothier, Felipe Macias

PhD student: Ainul Mahmud (Ainul is about to submit her PhD thesis)

PhD research topic: Monitoring the stability of biochar by measuring the soil C and biochar-C in biochar-amended soils using visible-near infrared spectroscopy.

PhD supervisors: Marta Camps-Arbestain, Mike Hedley

PhD student: Lili Ye (visiting student from Guilin University of Technology in China)

Lili is collaborating in a meta-analysis on biochar and soil management, with special attention on crop nutrition led by Marta Camps-Arbestain.

ANZBC17 Conference Proceedings – free PDF

Australia New Zealand Biochar Conference 2017: Conference Proceedings


“The Australia New Zealand Biochar Conference (ANZBC), held in Murwillumbah NSW,
Australia in August 2017, saw the gathering of scientists, biochar producers, equipment
manufacturers, farmers, enthusiasts and other potential biochar end-users. Presenters
covered a wide range of topics ranging from reviews of recent science to advances in
manufacturing technologies to novel end uses for biochar. The conference provided all in
attendance with an up-to-date overview of the state of manufacture, use and potential uses
of biochar as well as the opportunity for both presenters and attendees to exchange ideas
and develop collaborative networks.
These proceedings are a compilation of papers submitted to ANZBC and summaries of
presentations given. The proceedings are divided into three sections, namely refereed
scientific contributions, non-refereed written summaries of oral presentations and non-
refereed powerpoint summaries of oral presentations. The non-refereed summaries reflect
the opinions of the authors at the time of writing, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion
of all in attendance at the conference. The papers and summaries in this proceedings
benchmark the current state of play of the Australia New Zealand biochar industry in 2017
from the perspective of scientists, manufacturers, marketers and end users.”
John Harvey
Managing Director
AgriFutures Australia


A strong new review paper on forest biochar (with NZ links)

NZ links in this important new review. Maybe this meshes nicely with previous post on potential biochar business models in NZ. You can read a review here at the Biochar Discussion Group.

  • Yongfu Li
  • Shuaidong Hu
  • Junhui Chen
  • Karin Müller
  • Yongchun Li
  • Weijun Fu
  • Ziwen Lin
  • Hailong Wang
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Subtropical Silviculture Zhejiang A & F University Hangzhou China
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Carbon Cycling in Forest Ecosystems and Carbon Sequestration of Zhejiang Province Zhejiang A & F University Hangzhou China
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Soil Contamination Bioremediation of Zhejiang Province Zhejiang A & F University Hangzhou China
  4. 4.The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited Ruakura Research Centre Hamilton New Zealand
  5. 5.Guangdong Dazhong Agriculture Science Co. Ltd.Dongguan China
  6. 6.Biochar Engineering Technology Research Center of Guangdong Province School of Environment and Chemical Engineering, Foshan University Foshan China



Forests play a critical role in terrestrial ecosystem carbon cycling and the mitigation of global climate change. Intensive forest management and global climate change have had negative impacts on the quality of forest soils via soil acidification, reduction of soil organic carbon content, deterioration of soil biological properties, and reduction of soil biodiversity. The role of biochar in improving soil properties and the mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has been extensively documented in agricultural soils, while the effect of biochar application on forest soils remains poorly understood. Here, we review and summarize the available literature on the effects of biochar on soil properties and GHG emissions in forest soils.

Materials and methods

This review focuses on (1) the effect of biochar application on soil physical, chemical, and microbial properties in forest ecosystems; (2) the effect of biochar application on soil GHG emissions in forest ecosystems; and (3) knowledge gaps concerning the effect of biochar application on biogeochemical and ecological processes in forest soils.

Results and discussion

Biochar application to forests generally increases soil porosity, soil moisture retention, and aggregate stability while reducing soil bulk density. In addition, it typically enhances soil chemical properties including pH, organic carbon stock, cation exchange capacity, and the concentration of available phosphorous and potassium. Further, biochar application alters microbial community structure in forest soils, while the increase of soil microbial biomass is only a short-term effect of biochar application. Biochar effects on GHG emissions have been shown to be variable as reflected in significantly decreasing soil N2O emissions, increasing soil CH4 uptake, and complex (negative, positive, or negligible) changes of soil CO2 emissions. Moreover, all of the aforementioned effects are biochar-, soil-, and plant-specific.


The application of biochars to forest soils generally results in the improvement of soil physical, chemical, and microbial properties while also mitigating soil GHG emissions. Therefore, we propose that the application of biochar in forest soils has considerable advantages, and this is especially true for plantation soils with low fertility.

NZ biochar business models

Converting Shelterbelt Biomass to Biochar

A Feasibility Analysis for North Dakota Forest Service
By Kelpie Wilson
Wilson Biochar Associates

This PDF report linked above by Wilson Biochar Associates points to future business opportunities for biochar production in NZ. A few business models come to mind:

  • Perennial crop pruning and shelter belt management
  • Forest slash and thinning management
  • Wilding pine management

There is little capital required for the biochar entrepreneur and the economics look promising. What is lacking is a developed market which will hopefully come soon with more publicity and education. Biochar enthusiasts can help by getting this report in front of potential clients, be they vineyards, orchards, forest managers or wilding management groups.

If you have some time and are not familiar with biochar production from fire management such as TFOD (top feed open draft) systems (kontiki, trough, pit), then the following video from WBA should be of interest.

Royal Society report mentions biochar

I’ve posted before on Royal Society discussion on biochar (try a search on ‘royal society’). I missed this important report [linked here] when it was released last year.  A search on ‘biochar’ in the report pulls some results. Here are some cuts and comments…

Page 140: “Figure 5.32 Possible technical and management options, and their stage of development, to reduce GHG emissions in the agriculture sector by either increasing efficiency /productivity or reducing emissions per animal”


Biochar gets listed but when you look at the table, biochar could have been discussed in 6 of the 7 table items.

Page 146: Box 5.4: Changes in soil carbon under grazed pastures

“…There is also interest in biochar to increase carbon stocks. Biochar is organic matter carbonised at high temperatures under controlled conditions that restrict oxygen from the process. There is good evidence that biochar represents a very stable form of carbon, so it could be applied to soils to store more carbon. Specific biochars could also possibly help reduce N2 O emissions, although the specific mechanisms are not yet clear. Other potential benefits for improving soil functions and reducing emissions from pastures are also being evaluated. However, the main challenge at present to any widespread use of biochar in a pastoral system remains its cost and the large area that would need to be covered, which makes this strategy not economically feasible to New Zealand farmers without a very high carbon price.
Given the relatively high existing soil carbon stock in New Zealand’s pastures and the scientific and technical difficulties in monitoring and verifying long-term systematic changes in soil carbon stocks, relying on increasing soil carbon would not appear to be a viable mitigation route for New Zealand in the near term. However, subject to substantial additional research and the development of cost effective farm-scale monitoring and reporting tools, it might become a more tractable avenue in future.”

I’ve highlighted two important sentences. Comments: The authors don’t seem to have considered continuous application scenarios. Examples: biochar as an animal feed supplement; biochar as a nutrient carrier in fertilser applications; biochar produced for ‘free’ and over time by the farmer from treefall or crop residues. I’m hoping pressure will grow for more research now, due to growing climate change pressures, water quality and a change of govt. thinking. Your support and efforts could help with this.



Cam’s avocado plan

Cam Smith has been working with biochar for a number of years on his permaculture farm near Waiuku. His latest avocado planting project is an endorsement of his confidence in biochar as an important component of his future commercial plans. He’s posted on this at the ABE FB page but as it is NZ biochar news, it should also feature here. I’m hoping the link below takes you directly to his recent FB post…

Cam hosted a biochar workshop back in 2015 :

and we hope to run a biochar training workshop at his farm in May next year…

ANZBC17 conference report

The Australia New Zealand Biochar Conference 2017 took place at Murwillumbah Civic Centre and Showgrounds, NSW, Australia from 10th to 12th of August. Information about the program and presenters is available from the conference website.

My overall impression of the event was very positive. A lot of very exciting information was presented in a crammed schedule. A bit too much to take in one bite so I’m looking forward to reviewing the presentation feeds when they are made available online. There were a few glitches with live broadcasting so there will be some disappointed folk who signed up for this. They will hopefully get access to the recordings soon. I don’t have the final list of attendees but I’m guessing 15-20 of the ~150 registered attendees were from NZ.

The 3rd day was located at the showgrounds where production technologies were demonstrated and application workshops were conducted.

Kontiki demo – link to better quality image











I’ve linked some video footage below, on the 3rd day…

I hope to write some more soon about biochar industry development pathways in NZ. If you have thoughts on this subject, please get in touch.