• Biochar Research
    Collaborative Projects
    At Celignis Biomass Lab


The use of biochar as a soil amendment dates back thousands of years, with evidence of its use found in ancient Amazonian soils. However, it was not until the late 20th and early 21st century that biochar began to receive renewed attention as a potential tool for addressing some of the pressing environmental challenges facing the world today, including climate change, soil degradation, and food security.

The modern history of biochar research can be traced back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when a handful of scientists began to investigate the potential of biochar as a soil amendment. One of the key figures in this early research was Dr. Johannes Lehmann, a soil scientist at Cornell University, who in the early 2000's published a paper in the journal Nature which demonstrated that adding biochar to soils can significantly increase soil fertility and crop yields.

Since then, biochar research has exploded in popularity, with thousands of studies published on the topic over the past two decades. Researchers around the world have been investigating the effects of biochar on a wide range of crops and soils, as well as its potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality, and enhance biodiversity. For example, biochar is one of the key research areas of the Carbolea Group at the University of Limerick, the research centre from which Celignis spun-out in 2014.

Biochar for Carbon Sequestration

One of the key areas of focus in biochar research has been its potential to sequester carbon. When organic matter is heated to produce biochar, the carbon in that organic matter is locked away in a stable form that can remain in the soil for centuries. This has led some researchers to suggest that biochar could be used as a tool to help mitigate climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil.

While there is still much research to be done on the carbon sequestration potential of biochar, early studies have shown promising results. A 2012 meta-analysis of 44 studies found that adding biochar to soils can lead to a 50% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to non-amended soils. Another study published in 2016 found that biochar-amended soils could sequester up to 1.8 billion tons of carbon per year, equivalent to about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Biochar for Soil Fertility

In addition to its potential as a carbon sequestration tool, biochar has also been found to have a wide range of other benefits for soils and crops. For example, studies have shown that biochar can improve soil fertility by increasing nutrient retention, reducing soil acidity, and enhancing soil microbial activity. Biochar has also been found to increase crop yields, particularly in degraded or nutrient-poor soils. Other potential benefits of biochar include its ability to improve water quality by reducing nutrient runoff and enhancing water retention in soils. biochar has also been found to enhance biodiversity by providing habitat for soil microorganisms and supporting plant growth.

While the potential benefits of biochar are clear, there are still many questions that need to be answered before it can be widely adopted as a tool for addressing environmental challenges. For example, researchers are still working to understand the optimal conditions for producing biochar, including the best types of feedstocks and pyrolysis temperatures.

Current Topics in Biochar Research

Biobased Materials from Biochar

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the use of biochar not just as a soil amendment but also as a material for a wide range of applications. This has led to an increase in research on the properties and potential applications of biochar-based materials, as well as on the production and processing of biochar for these applications.

One of the key areas of focus in biochar materials research has been the development of biochar-based composites. These composites combine biochar with other materials, such as polymers, to create materials with enhanced properties. For example, biochar has been combined with polypropylene to create a bio-based composite material that is lightweight, strong, and environmentally friendly. Biochar has also been used as a filler in concrete to improve its strength and durability.

Another area of research has been the use of biochar in energy storage applications. Biochar has been found to have high surface area and porosity, making it an ideal material for use as an electrode in supercapacitors and other energy storage devices. Researchers are investigating the properties of biochar that make it suitable for energy storage, as well as ways to optimize its performance in these applications.

Pollution Control

Biochar has also been investigated for use in water treatment applications. It has been found to be effective at removing contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals from water, making it a potential tool for improving water quality in both industrial and municipal settings. Researchers are investigating the mechanisms by which biochar removes contaminants from water, as well as ways to optimize its performance in these applications.

Biochar Activation

Activation of biochar has become a popular research topic in recent years due to the potential to modify biochar's properties for specific applications. Activation is the process of creating highly porous biochar by increasing its surface area. Activated biochar has been found to have enhanced adsorption capacity, making it useful for applications such as water treatment, air purification, and soil remediation.

The most common methods of biochar activation include chemical activation, physical activation, and combined activation. Chemical activation involves the use of chemicals such as potassium hydroxide or zinc chloride to create highly porous biochar. Physical activation uses high temperatures and controlled atmospheres to produce highly porous biochar, while combined activation uses a combination of both chemical and physical methods to create biochar with specific properties.

Biochar Functionalisation

Functionalisation is the process of modifying the surface chemistry of biochar to add new properties or enhance existing ones. Functionalized biochar has been studied extensively for its potential in various applications, such as catalysis, energy storage, and environmental remediation.

The functionalization of biochar is typically achieved through the modification of its surface chemistry using various techniques, such as acid treatment, oxidation, and grafting of functional groups.

Acid treatment involves treating biochar with an acid such as nitric or sulfuric acid to introduce functional groups such as carboxyl and hydroxyl groups, which can improve the biochar's sorption capacity and catalytic activity.

Oxidation involves treating biochar with an oxidizing agent such as hydrogen peroxide or ozone to increase the number of oxygen-containing functional groups on its surface.

Grafting involves attaching functional groups such as amines, sulfonic acids, or phosphonic acids to the surface of biochar to enhance its properties.

Hydrothermal Carbonisation

Slow pyrolysis is the conventional method for producing biochar. It involves heating the biomass at temperatures between 350 and 700 oC in the absence of oxygen. However, recently there has been much research into the use of hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC) for biochar production.

HTC allows for wet feedstocks and slurries to be used for biochar production. It involves heating biomass in the presence of water under high temperature and pressure conditions. This process leads to the breakdown of the biomass components, resulting in the formation of a hydrochar, which is a biochar-like product.

Hydrochars produced from HTC tends to have lower ash contents than biochars from slow pyrolysis due to the washout of inorganic components during hydrothermal carbonisation. Hydrochars also tend to have a lower polarity and aromaticity than slow-pyrolysis biochars.

How Celignis Can Assist in Biochar Research Projects

Celignis is currently active in a number of important research projects looking to advance the state of the art in the utilisation of biomass for the production of biobased products, fuels, and energy. These projects are funded by a number of schemes, including the European Union's Horizon Europe programme, the Circular Bioeconomy Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE-JU) (Celignis is a member of the Biobased Industries Consortium (BIC) steering committee for the CBE), and local national programmes. Biochar is a key component of several of these projects, and was also component in a number of our now completed research projects.

Below we list some of the areas in which we can contribute as a collaborative partner in research projects that involve the production, modification, and application of biochar.

Feedstock Profiling

If your project involves the screening of feedstocks with regards to their suitability for the production of biochar then Celignis can be of great assistance.

We can leverage our deep understanding of biomass chemistry and our extensive experience in analysing biomass feedstocks (tens of thousands of samples analysed to date) to narrow down the list of candidate feedstocks.

We can then undertake feedstock analyses, with our wide-ranging analysis packages, to get detailed compositional data to inform the feedstock selection process. These analyses can cover many parameters including: chemical composition (e.g. the lignocellulosic constituents of biomass), thermal properties, and ash composition.

We can also monitor how the feedstock behaves under pyrolysis conditions using our thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) equipment. The results of such analyses can help to inform what the most suitable pyrolysis conditions would be for each feedstock.

We are currently profiling a wide number of candidate pyrolysis feedstocks as part of our activities in the BIO4AFRICA and SteamBioAfrica projects, funded by the EU's Horizon Europe programme.

Get more info...Further Details

Biochar Analysis

We have all the necesary equipment and expertise to fully analyse and assess biochar samples. Our analyses can cover properties relevant to a wide range of potential applications for biochar, including: combustion, soil applications, and biobased materials.

We can determine the surface area and porosity of biochar and can suggest suitable end-uses based on the results or potential treatment options to increase available surface area.

Our extensive experience in the lignocellulosic analysis of biomass can be used to determine the fate of the main constituents of biomass in the pyrolysis process, when compared against the starting feedstock. Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) is also a very useful tool for such comparison studies.

In addtion to analysing biochar, we can also analyse bio-oil, the liquid output of pyrolysis, for a wide variety of chemical constituents.

As part of our activities in the Horizon Europe project BIO4AFRICA we are analysing numerous samples of biochar and hydrochar produced under varying conditions from several African biomass feedstocks. In the Horizon Europe project SteamBioAfrica we are analysing the torrified biomass that is produced from a number of invasive bush species prevalent in several African countries.

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Plant Growth Trials

We can undertake lab-scale and greenhouse-scale experiments focused on the effect of biochar amendment to soil on the germination and growth of plants.

These trials can study a variety of parameters, such as: biochar loading, plant-type, soil-type, and incubation period.

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Biochar Production

We have equipment for the lab-scale production of bioochar from feedstocks. With these items of equipment we can explore the effects of varying conditions (e.g. pyrolysis temperature, residence time, heating rate etc.) on the yield and quality of biochar produced from feedstocks.

We can also explore the potential for using certain additives during the pyrolysis process that may help to improve the quality of the process outputs and reduce the formation of undesirable compounds (e.g. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs) during pyrolysis. Also, feedstock pre-treatment strategies (e.g. washing) can be tested for their effects on biochar yields and quality.

Get more info...Further Details

Biochar Upgrading

We can employ a variety of different approaches to activate and/or functionalise biochar. We can then assess the impacts of these approaches with compositional, physical, and structural analyses of the biochar. These upgrading experiments can be designed according to the desired end-use application market for the biochar or project.

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Technoeconomic Analysis

Our technoeconomic experts can work in the project on technoeconomic analysis (TEA) work packages. These will allow for the economic prospects of a future pyrolysis facility, based on the technologies developed in the project, to be evaluated. The TEA can consider various scale, technology, and feedstock options. We apply accurate costing models to determine CAPEX/OPEX of simulated and pilot scale processes which are then used to determine key economic indicators (e.g. IRR, NPV).

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Current Research Projects Involving Celignis and Biochar Research

"Innovative Large-Scale Production of Affordable Clean Burning Solid Biofuel and Water in Southern Africa: Transforming Bush Encroachment from a Problem into a Secure and Sustainable Energy Source"

ProgrammeHorizon Europe, LC-GD-2-3-2020
CategoryInnovation Action (IA)
Period2021 - 2024
LinksWebsite, Cordis, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook
This project addresses the problems experienced with bush encroachment in a number of southern African countries by using this biomass as a feedstock for a steam torrefaction process, developed in SteamBio (an earlier EU-funded project). Their are two main outputs of this process, a solid material which has improved properties, with regards to its use as a clean-burning fuel, over the original biomass, and a liquid condensate containing volatile components removed from the biomass during torrefaction.

Celignis is an important analytical partner in the project, undertaking detailed compositional analyses of the feedstocks and process outputs as well as providing guidance and SOPs to the local partners for routine analyses (e.g. for proximate, ultimate, and calorific value analysis). Additionally, Celignis is the main partner responsible for the analysis of the liquid condensate fraction and for the evaluation of suitable applications and markets for it. This is expected to be a complex mixture of degradation products, particularly those coming from the extractives and hemciellulose fractions of the biomass. The profiling of this liquid stream will involve use of our extensive range of chromatography equipment, particularly our Agilent iFunnel 6550 QTOF-LC/MS device. Following this detailed analysis we will then consider which components within the liquid are of value and will consider applications for these (either in crude or refined forms) and will work on techniques for separation and purification.

Get more info...SteamBioAfrica

"Diversifying Revenue in Rural Africa through Circular, Sustainable and Replicable Bio-based Solutions and Business Models"

ProgrammeHorizon Europe, CE-SFS-36-2020
CategoryResearch and Innovation Action (RIA)
Period2021 - 2025
LinksWebsite, Cordis, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook
BIO4Africa focuses on the demonstration of sustainable, circular solutions and business models, suitable for African countries, based on the valorisation of a variety of local feedstocks.

Celignis is an important partner in the project, having a key role early-on with regards to the compositional analysis and evaluation of a wide variety of different local feedstocks. These data allowed decisions to be made with regards to which feedstocks were suitable for which technologies leading to a subset of feedstocks being selected for processing. The project's technologies include: pyrolysis (for biochar production); hydrothermal carbonisation; and a green-biorefinery (the GRASSA process).

After matching feedstocks with technology, samples will be sent to the European technology providers where initial tests will determine how these feedstocks behave. Following these trials arrangements will be made for the equipment to be shipped to Africa where the technologies will be deployed at a number of locations, processing locally-available biomass. Celignis will also play an important role in the project at these stages, being responsible for the analysis of the outputs (e.g. biochar, HTC char, press-cake, etc.) of the various technologies.

Get more info...BIO4Africa

Previous Research Projects Involving Celignis and Biochar Research

"The Production of Sustainable Diesel-Miscible-Biofuels from the Residues and Wastes of Europe and Latin America"

ProgrammeHorizon Europe, FP7.ENERGY.2008.3.2.1
CategoryResearch and Innovation Action (RIA)
Period2009 - 2013
LinksWebsite, Cordis
DIBANET, involved collaborative research between 13 partners from Europe and Latin America to develop biorefining technologies for the production of advanced biofuels. It targeted levulinic acid (a valuable platform chemical), from cellulose and hexose sugars, and of furfural (a valuable solvent and fuel precursor), from hemicellulose-dervied pentose sugars such as xylose. The process employed acid-hydrolysis, at elevated temperatures and pressures, to hydrolyse the polsyaccharides and produce the targeted molecules. The project also involved the development of a novel pre-treatment process, employing formic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The solid residues that were retained after hydrolysis were pyrolysed and gasified in order to produce energy.

Dan's primary scientific role in the project was in WP2 where he led efforts to generate algorithms for the rapid prediction of biomass composition based on the near infrared spectra of samples. Particular focuses for model development in DIBANET were the feedstocks Miscanthus (highly suitable for European climates) and sugarcane bagasse (a highly abundant fibrous residue in Brazil).

The development of the rapid biomass analysis models in DIBANET resulted in Dan spinning-out Celignis in 2014.

Get more info...DIBANET

"Enhance New Approaches in BioBased Local Innovation Networks for Growth"

ProgrammeHorizon Europe, RUR-10-2016-2017
CategoryCoordinating and Supporting Action (CSA)
Period2017 - 2020
LinksWebsite, Cordis, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube
The focus of the ENABLING project was on supporting the spreading of best practices and innovation in the provision (production, pre-processing) of biomass for the Bio-Based Industry (BBI).

Celignis played a key role in the project with regards to stressing the importance of biomass composition in terms of evaluating feedstock and technology suitability. We played a leading role in Work package 2 and were responsible for the development of the project's "Process Flows Platform", a web based tool that allowed stakeholders to view the regional availability of feedstocks in 16 different European countries and then to match these feedstocks with a number of suitable biomass valorisation technologies.

Additionally, Celignis contributed to the ENABLING "Best Practices Atlas" web-tool through the collation and review of a number of biomass valorisation strategies underway in Ireland.

Get more info...ENABLING

Additional Information on Biochar Research

Feel free to get in touch with us if you would like to discuss potential collaborations in research projects that involve biochar. Relevant members of the Celignis biochar team will be happy to assist. Those team members with the most experience in writing and managing relevant research projects are listed below.

Dan Hayes

Celignis CEO And Founder

PhD (Analytical Chemistry)

Dreamer and achiever. Took Celignis from a concept in a research project to being the bioeconomy's premier provider of analytical and bioprocessing expertise.

Oscar Bedzo

Technoeconomic Analysis Lead


A dynamic, purpose-driven chemical engineer with expertise in bioprocess development, process design, simulation and techno-economic analysis over several years in the bioeconomy sector.

Lalitha Gottumukkala

Chief Innovation Officer


A serial innovator managing multiple projects. Has particular expertise related to the upgrading of biochar and on the assessment of its impact on plant productivity and soil health.

Other Celignis Tests and Services for Biochar

Global Recognition as Biomass and Biochar Experts

Celignis provides valued services to over 1000 clients. We understand how the focus of biochar projects can differ between countries and have advised a global network of clients. We also have customs-exemptions for samples sent to us allowing us to quickly get to work no matter where our clients are based.

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Feedstock Evaluation

Our analysis packages can screen biochar feedstocks. We can estimate biochar yield and quality using feedstock chemical composition and can estimate biochar composition using the ultimate and major/minor elements analyses of the feedstock. With TGA analysis we can also monitor feedstock behaviour under pyrolysis conditions.

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Biochar Production

We can produce biochar samples from your feedstocks using a wide range of temperatures, heating rates, and residence times. We can formulate a Design of Experiments (DoE) to study the effects of varying process parameters on biochar yield and quality and can optimise these outputs according to your desired biochar market applications.

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Biochar Analysis

We have an extensive array of analysis packages to evaluate the suitability of biochar for a range of applications. These analyses cover properties relevant to combustion, soil amendment, feed, and biomaterials. Our reports compare the results against internationally-recognised limits for using the biochar in specific end-products.

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Biochar Combustion Properties

Biochar can be a superior fuel versus virgin biomass due to its greater carbon content and energy density. We offer a wide array of analysis packages to fully evaluate biochar as a fuel. For example, we can determine both organic and inorganic carbon and can monitor the behaviour of the biochar ash over wide temperature ranges.

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Soil Amendment & Plant Growth Trials

We can test biochar for several properties (e.g. water holding capacity, electrical conductivity etc.) relevant to its use in soil amendment. We can also grow plants in biochar-amended soils and assess the impacts of this approach on germination, plant growth, plant health, and soil biology.

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Analysis of PAHs in Biochar

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be formed during the pyrolysis of biomass and accumulate in biochar, leading to potential risks to the environment. We can accurately quantify a range of different PAHs and determine if their concentrations exceed regulatory limits. We can also develop strategies to reduce the amount of PAHs in biochar.

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Surface Area and Porosity of Biochar

The suitable markets for a biochar are often greatly dependent on its surface area and pore size-distrubtion. We provide detailed reports on biochar surface area and porosity and can provide guidance on the implications of the results. We can also work on strategies to increase the surface area and modify the pore-size distribution of biochar.

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Thermogravimetric Analysis of Biochar

TGA is a powerful analytical technique for the study of biochars because it allows us to examine the thermal stability of the material as a function of temperature. The thermal stability of biochars is an important factor to consider when evaluating their potential use as a soil amendment or for carbon sequestration.

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Biochar Upgrading

There are several different methods (covering physical, chemical and biologial routes) by which we can upgrade your biochar in order to increase its value and make it more suitable for the desired market applications. We are able to fully characterise the changes in physicochemical properties associated with upgrading.

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Biochar for Carbon Sequestration

Biochar's efficacy as a means for sequestering carbon depends on a range of factors (e.g. feedstock and pyrolysis conditions). We can undertake a range of analytical tests to help you determine the stability of your biochar's carbon. We can also suggest alternative approaches to improve carbon sequestration potential.

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Technoeconomic Analyses of Biochar Projects

Our TEA experts work with you to evaluate the economic prospects of your biochar facility, considering various scale, technology, and feedstock options. We apply accurate costing models to determine CAPEX/OPEX of simulated and pilot scale processes which are then used to determine key economic indicators (e.g. IRR, NPV).

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