Urban Biochar & Sustainable Materials Demonstrator

New biochar technology has been installed by Aston University to combat climate change in Birmingham.

500 t
Est. annual reduction in carbon
emissions (tonnes CO2 eq)

The Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute's story

The project, called the ‘Urban Biochar and Sustainable Materials Demonstrator’, is being led by the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) based at Aston University, and funded by Local Growth Fund (LGF) from the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), as well as the EU European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The main objectives of this initiative are to: develop biochar for the benefit of city and town environments, and local economies; research how biochar can be used as a soil enhancer in urban landscapes; conduct scientific modelling to assess the carbon capture merits of biochar.

The EBRI team and its project partners have developed a mobile production unit situated at Birmingham City Council’s Cofton Nursery, a horticultural site near the Lickey Hills on the outskirts of the city. This innovative demonstrator is devised to thermally convert wood cuttings from around Birmingham and Solihull into biochar. When wood and other plant material is heated without oxygen by a process known as ‘pyrolysis’ it produces a number of valuable byproducts including gases, oils and biochar. Processing organic waste materials in this way prevents them from releasing greenhouse gases and provides a safe and long-term way of capturing carbon.

Up to ten businesses from in and around Birmingham and Solihull will be given the chance to trial a ground-breaking project launched during COP26 to help combat climate change through the use of biochar.

The call-out, which is for companies wanting to make the move towards becoming carbon neutral, has come from the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) based at Aston University. It follows the launch of its new urban biochar greenhouse gas reduction and sustainable materials generator earlier this year.

The chosen ten will be guided by the experts at EBRI into how they can use biochar, a sustainable form of charcoal made from organic waste, and how it can be used for practical purposes. Biochar has a variety of uses, including carbon capture, water treatment, soil improvement, odour control and industry applications.

Useful learnings from the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute

Tim Miller, director of engagement at EBRI, said this is an important landmark project for the city.

“By taking waste residues, such as diseased and fallen wood from trees in our streets and parks, our demonstrator contains the technology to convert such unwanted material into useful, high value bioproducts, such as biochar, and energy such as oils and gases."
"By combining this innovative technology with EBRI's scientific expertise in the field of biochar, we plan to raise awareness of the benefits this sustainable material offers including climate change mitigation (carbon capture), soil enhancement, water treatment and industrial applications,” he said.
The ten ‘live use’ case trials will be able to demonstrate how biochar can be used for practical purposes, for decarbonisation and for work to improve the land as a soil amender. The businesses can be any size.

"What we are looking for is places that people can use this biochar material. It maybe green roofs, or hydroponics, green walls, it maybe they are doing some sort of property development and want to see how they can reduce the greenhouse gas balance impact of their property. Or perhaps they are going through the process of planting trees and want to be able to use the biochar which will help store carbon in the ground and increase tree growth.”

Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) Net Zero Board Champion, Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council added: "GBSLEP has invested in projects to drive the growth of our low carbon and energy technology sector. The £306,000 grant from our Local Growth Funding has enabled this state-of the-art equipment to be installed."

"It will convert tree waste from homes across Solihull and Birmingham into a sustainable energy use for our businesses. This project is a fantastic example of how we are locally supporting the Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.”

The Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute's metrics

Carbon sequestered.
Quantity of green waste converted to biochar.
Number of test sites and property developments supported.
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Mobile production unit.
Organic waste wood goes through pyrolysis to become biochar