June 20, 2024
minute read

First Year of Biochar Field Trials Yields Promising Results for Sustainable Agriculture

Black Bull Biochar | Press Release | 20 June, 2024

The application of biochar, a carbon-rich soil additive and leading carbon dioxide removal technology, has shown an increase of 51% and 22% in total soil carbon and total soil nitrogen respectively. Preliminary results show promising yield improvements of 16% in the total annual yield from cut grassland.

Black Bull Biochar (BBB), in collaboration with Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), is conducting pioneering field trials using biochar as an additive to organic fertilisers on dairy farms in the UK, assessing its effectiveness and practicality as a solution for British growers. This collaborative effort is quantifying the benefits of integrating biochar, particularly BBB’s flagship product, PinChar, into dairy farming practices.

Biochar field trial grassland plots in SRUC’s Dairy Research and Innovation Centre in Chrichton Royal Farm.

Biochar is well known for its ability to improve nutrient retention, soil health, and crop productivity. PinChar was co-applied with slurry to grassland plots at a rate of just 0.5 t/ha, demonstrating a significant increase in the first-year grassland yield of 16% compared to the control plots. These initial results suggest that the practice of low-dose, tailored biochar application holds substantial promise for improving productivity and sustainability on farms.

“The biochar additions to grassland and arable sites are important work in assessing the applicability of biochar to both store carbon in the soil and to enhance the yield of the crop to which it has been applied, this is an important contribution to sustainable agriculture in helping reduce a farm’s carbon footprint and making more use of the slurry produced,” says Dr Paul Hargreaves, Soil Scientist and Grassland Researcher at SRUC. “There is also a potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The results for the grassland plots have been very encouraging with increased yield. We are now in the second year and hope both this year’s applications and the legacy of the biochar applied last year will continue this trend.”
Biochar held within the crop roots from the grassland trial plot.

Targeted, low-dose biochar application can improve local soil properties around roots, allowing the crop to access more nutrients. Its high surface area, porosity at multiple scales, and negative surface charge make PinChar effective at adsorbing and retaining nutrients in soil. The grassland plots with surface-applied PinChar and slurry contained significantly higher levels of carbon and nitrogen, with an improvement of 51% total carbon and 22% of total nitrogen contents in the soil compared to the plots with only slurry applied.

“Results from the first year of the BBB field trials are really exciting as they demonstrate that in addition to storing carbon in the soil, biochar application to grassland has benefits for crop productivity and nutrient retention,” Jeanette Whitaker, Principal Scientist in Soil and Land Use at UKCEH remarked. “The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology will continue to monitor the longer-term impacts of this innovative delivery system as the applications of slurry and biochar are repeated annually.”

The farm-scale trials mark BBB’s pioneering efforts in integrating biochar into UK farming systems, highlighting its role as a pivotal tool in sustainable agriculture. While numerous biochar field trials have been conducted with high application rates of 10 t/ha or more, few focus on low-dose, targeted applications which are more practical to implement at scale within agriculture.

"These results provide compelling evidence supporting the effective use of low dose application of tailored biochar products in grassland agriculture. The trials show how our biochar products can be effectively deployed with organic fertilisers to supercharge growth and potentially reduce mineral fertiliser inputs. Our tailored biochar is an exciting innovative product, and we look forward to continuing this research with our partners over the coming year,” says Dr Hamish Creber, CTO & Co-founder of Black Bull Biochar.

The partnership between BBB, SRUC, and UKCEH exemplifies the collective commitment towards fostering innovation in agriculture and addressing the challenges of food production in a rapidly changing climate. The widespread adoption of biochar in the UK holds promise for sustainable development opportunities and environmental stewardship in British agriculture. Alongside its on-farm benefits, and as a leading method of greenhouse gas removal, biochar enables organisations and governments to achieve their Net-Zero targets.

These field trials are part of BBB’s pilot project in the government’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, through the DESNZ Direct Air Capture and other Greenhouse Gas Removal technologies competition.

To see the year 1 results of the trial and find out more about the process, visit https://www.blackbullbiochar.com/biochar-field-trials

The full results of the trials, including the results from the arable plots, will be published in Spring 2025.

Note to Editors:

Black Bull Biochar is available for interviews.

About Black Bull Biochar:

Black Bull Biochar (BBB) is a start-up with a mission to scale up the use of biochar – a leading greenhouse gas removal technology – by creating a first-of-a-kind platform and network that helps key stakeholders within academia, industry, agriculture, and government to overcome the systemic barriers to widespread adoption of biochar. By increasing the production and application of biochar in the UK, BBB actively contributes to the mitigation of climate change and the enrichment of agricultural systems. Additional information is available at www.blackbullbiochar.com.

About SRUC:

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) was established in 2012 through the merger of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) with Barony, Elmwood and Oatridge Colleges. Today, SRUC is on a journey to become Scotland’s enterprise university at the heart of our sustainable natural economy. SRUC’s mission is to create and mobilise knowledge and talent – partnering locally and globally to benefit Scotland’s natural economy. To achieve this, SRUC draws upon its longstanding strengths in world-class and sector-leading research, learning and teaching, skills and training and consultancy (through SAC Consulting). By focussing on the sustainable natural economy, SRUC will strive to lead the way in delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all, in Scotland, and beyond. Additional information is available at: https://www.sruc.ac.uk/

About UKCEH:

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is a world-leading centre for excellence in environmental sciences across water, land, and air. Our research makes a major contribution to the development of sustainable, productive farming systems that are resilient to climate change and protect biodiversity. UKCEH undertakes long-term national surveys of both natural and managed environments, focusing on carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. We therefore improve understanding of the role that land use has on emissions. Additional information is available at: www.ceh.ac.uk

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