Biochar is a solid material that is obtained from the carbonization of biomass. It is added to soil to enhance soil quality and reduce emission through carbon sequestration. The use of biochar for carbon sequestration is believed to offset carbon emission from natural and industrial processes. Biochar also improves water quality by retaining the agrochemicals and soil nutrients that could have mixed with water and caused water pollution. In addition to carbon sequestration and soil amendment, sustainable biochar practices can yield products that can be used as fuel.
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Pyrolysis is a simple and low-cost technique used to produce a wide range of products such as biochar, bio-oil, and bio-chemicals. The biochar obtained as the output of the pyrolysis process can improve soil fertility. Biochar can be obtained either using the slow or fast pyrolysis technique. The biochar industry in the U.S. is in the development phase with several research institutes and companies trying to develop biochar at low cost, which could prove economical for both buyers and sellers. The U.S. market for biochar includes companies that are involved in small and medium scale biochar manufacturing. These companies provide biochar for gardening, research, agriculture (large farms), and household purposes.
Manufacturers provide biochar in a pure form and engineered biochar/biochar mixes designed to meet the requirement of small scale users such as gardeners. The second set of manufacturers includes farmers and gardeners who produce biochar for their own use. These manufacturers use low cost practices to develop biochar such as stoves and burners. Various market players are developing gasification, slow pyrolysis, and fast pyrolysis systems for production of biochar. There are a large number of players in the U.S. involved in the manufacture and supply of biochar. Very few technology providers can be observed in the U.S. biochar market. Most of the companies are concentrating on producing biochar – particularly those using the slow pyrolysis systems.
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Release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through rising use of fossil fuels has resulted in global warming. Fossil fuel is a carbon-positive fuel that increases the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Moreover, carbon is continually released in the atmosphere as a result of decomposition of plants and animals. Biochar’s ability to act as a carbon sink and its capability to sequester carbon is likely to drive growth in the U.S. biochar market in the future. Furthermore, biochar is a helpful tool to achieve the goal of crop diversity and food security in areas with scarce organic resources. The potential of biochar to improve soil fertility and enhance crop productivity is also likely to act as an important driver of growth in the U.S. biochar market. Additionally, application of biochar for waste management is likely to fuel additional demand for biochar in the U.S. biochar market.
Most of the biochar applications (waste water treatment, energy production) are still unexplored and thus raising the finance to carry out biochar projects is one of the major restraints to the biochar market in the U.S. The success of the U.S. biochar market largely depends on research activities directed toward establishing biochar as a prime product with proven benefits. The location of pyrolysis facilities would continue to be an important factor in the development of the biochar industry in the U.S. The location of such facilities in or near to the vicinity of feedstock producing areas or demand centers would help in reducing the cost of production for biochar. The expected introduction of energy credits on use and manufacturing of biochar would further boost the U.S. biochar market in the near future.