A review of carbon market development perspectives and biochar offset projects GHG accounting aspects

Since the mid-1990s carbon markets have internationally become accepted as a way to provide additional financial incentives to climate-friendly investment options. The main framework for carbon markets has been the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This has been followed by, among other schemes, the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS, in 2005), the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, USA), the Western Climate Initiative (WCI, USA/Canada) and the New Zealand emissions trading scheme. In Australia, China, South Korea and Brazil national and sub-national emissions trading schemes are being planned.

Given its potential contribution to GHG emission reductions, biochar-to-soil projects could be eligible as carbon credit trading investments. The carbon credits could be generated from:

  1. The gases and oil generated during the pyrolysis process can be used for energy purposes, which could replace the combustion of fossil fuels.
  2. The long-term sequestration of carbon in biochar through pyrolysis prevents release of carbon back into the atmosphere in case of decomposition of biomass.
  3. Avoidance of methane emissions as biomass used for biochar production is not left to decompose.
  4. Emissions of nitrous oxides from soils may reduce through application of biochar to soils, while also methane uptake by soils may be enhanced.
  5. Applying biochar to soils may reduce the need to use conventional fertilizers, which could contribute to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emission reductions.

Based upon the review and analysis of the CDM methodologies and methodological tools and the review of the Biochar Carbon Offset Methodology the following can be concluded:

  • If and when biochar activities become more mainstream, the scope of the biochar methodology might need to be broadened to also allow for the use of primary biomass resources for biochar production.
  • Project related (non-priming) SOC losses (avoided C sequestration) during the crediting period could be significant in cases where the baseline scenario is uncontrolled aerobic decomposition of the feedstock. Even impact even holds given the fact that the SOC stored in the baseline (during crediting period) would also have declined to about 1% of initial SOC in feedstock in a time frame of about 100 years.
  • Further methodological guidance on allocation is needed if and when project developers will have the desire to be able to properly allocate or apportion project emissions (PE) to specific project outputs (PO), such as biochar and energy.
  • The prevailing practices and notions regarding baseline setting might not always be in line with commonly accepted notions of biomass cascading where the ‘better’ or more ‘sustainable’ use of a given biomass resource should prevail. In this regard the carbon market might not always provide the strongest incentive to the ‘best’ use.
  • The biochar methodology might benefit from also including methodological guidance on the potential emission reduction claims that can be made as a result of the avoidance of the use of fossil fertilizers due to biochar admission to soils.

The report can be downloaded from: pdfBiochar_and_carbon_market.pdf1.38 MB