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Studentship in the Biochar Demonstrator: Advanced Methods for Assessing the Permanence of Biochar

Area
Engineering

Location
UK Other

Closing Date
Saturday 31 August 2024

Reference
ENG180

The Biochar Demonstrator is part of the UK Research and Innovation £31.5M programme in greenhouse gas removal1 to help the UK meet its net zero climate target by 2050. Biochar is a charcoal-like material, produced from heating biomass in the absence of oxygen (pyrolysis). The interdisciplinary Biochar Demonstrator project is addressing the uncertainties concerning the extent and scope of deployment of biochar in the UK2. This is being achieved through implementing the most ambitious and comprehensive demonstration programme to date involving arable, grassland and woodland, with over 150 tonnes of biochar deployed specifically to answer questions regarding its permanence with respect to carbon sequestration and how ecosystem services are affected. To support the research programme, the University of Nottingham has provided funding for the following studentships. 

Regulators and carbon trading platforms require an evidence-based assessment of  how much biochar carbon  will persist for timescales of thousands of years. This knowledge is essential to justify payments for carbon sequestration. We have developed an analytical pyrolysis technique, hydropyrolysis (HyPy) that measures the fraction of stable polycyclic aromatic carbon (SPAC) in biochar, and also allows characterisation of the labile carbon fraction by mass spectrometry. HyPy is the only method available that achieves this on a secure, highly reproducible chemical basis. The approach will be applied to representative archaeological charcoal samples to characterise both the stable and labile carbon fractions that have persisted for millennial timescales . The HyPy characterisation of ancient charcoals will be complemented by experiments to assess the mineralisation rate of biochar-C. These will exploit the extreme sensitivity of radiocarbon (14C) measurements to perform ultra-sensitive identification of biochar-derived CO2 that is evolved from the surface of soil after biochar amendment. Using highly 14C-depeted and highly stable starting chars , and indigenous soil from our field trials, soil mesocosm experiments will be prepared to ascertain the impact of biochar amendment levels and soil properties on the mineralisation of the labile carbon fraction.

The results obtained will be used in international frameworks, such as the European Biochar Certificate, to quantify biochar persistence. This studentship will involve extensive collaboration with the radiocarbon facility at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), one of the partners in the Biochar demonstrator, where Dr. Philippa Ascough will co-supervise the project with Dr. Will Meredith and Prof. Colin Snape from Nottingham. 

Applicants should be expected to obtain either a first or upper second-class honours degree in either the chemical, environmental or geological sciences and need be eligible for paying home fees. The studentship will provide training opportunities in greenhouse gas removal generally and the broader societal, economic, technical aspects of biochar deployment.

Enquiries should be addressed to:

Prof. Colin Snape and Dr. Will Meredith; colin.snape@nottingham.ac.uk; william.meredith@nottingham.ac.uk 

1. https://www.ukri.org/news/uk-invests-over-30m-in-large-scale-greenhouse-gas-removal/

2. https://biochardemonstrator.ac.uk/

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