Many organic residue streams such as pig manure are not or inefficiently used, although they can be converted into valuable materials, as well as energy, using pyrolysis. The yield of the pyrolysis products (i.e. oil, gas and char) is dependent on the process conditions and the feedstock used. Char as a soil amendment or activated carbon are interesting options for valorization of biomass residues. Here, a review is presented of the techno-economic potential of both valorization options based on literature and own experiments with wood from phytoremediation, particle board and waste from beer production.
The term “biochar” is specifically used to designate pyrolysis char that is intentionally applied to soil in order to enhance its structure and fertility. Biochar applications are often also motivated by the objective of climate change mitigation. Two main disadvantages for the economic feasibility of biochar applications have been discerned. Firstly, carbon sequestration in agricultural crops and soils is not yet eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism. Secondly, the impact of biochar on crop productivity is unclear.
Activated carbon (AC) seems to have interesting adsorption characteristics resulting in potentially high sales prices. A preliminary techno-economic assessment showed that AC production is preferred above oil production for wood from phytoremediation as long as the market price of 2 kEUR·t-1 for commercially available ACs can be attained. Whenever a feedstock with high nitrogen content is available (e.g. particle board with melamine urea formaldehyde resin), even higher market prices might be attained.
This study shows that valorization of the pyrolysis char might be an answer to the slow adoption of pyrolysis in commercial applications. Focus in research and development, for instance in future research with regard to pig manure valorization, should therefore be on sustainable products with high economic value and direct utilization potential.