NSW DPI researchers win Environment Day Award

Robert Downie, Managing Director BEST Energies, Adriana Downie, Technical Manager BEST Energies and Lukas Van Zwieten, Senior Research Scientist NSW DPI at the World Environment Day Awards.

Efforts by NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) scientists to address the pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been recognised in World Environment Day Awards for 2007.

NSW DPI and industry collaborators BEST Energies won the award for research into the benefits of pyrolysis products and progress in commercialising this technology to achieve large scale climate benefits.

Pyrolysis is a renewable energy technology, developed by BEST Energies, which involves heating green waste or other biomass without oxygen. It has been hailed by leading environmentalist Tim Flannery as one of the most important available for stabilising the world’s climate.

NSW DPI formed a research partnership with BEST two years ago to investigate the potential of agrichar, a black carbon by-product of pyrolysis.

Research findings from Wollongbar Agricultural Institute are revealing the enormous promise of agrichar. Trials using agrichar as a soil amendment have doubled and, in one case, tripled crop biomass yield when applied at the rate of 10 tonnes to the hectare.

This new process also offers hope for using soils as a permanent carbon “sink”. Research trials measuring gases given off from the soil containing agrichar found significantly lower levels emitted of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide - a greenhouse gas more than 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide. The carbon in agrichar remains locked up in the soil for many years longer than, for example, carbon applied as compost, mulch or crop residue.

NSW DPI senior research scientist Dr Lukas Van Zwieten said soils naturally turn over about 10 times more greenhouse gas on a global scale than the burning of fossil fuels.

“So it is not surprising there is so much interest in a technology to create clean energy that also locks up carbon in the soil for the long term and lifts agricultural production,” he said.

Members of NSW DPI agrichar research team include scientists Yin Chan, Annette Cowie, Steve Kimber, Katrina Sinclair and BP Singh and technical staff Josh Rust, Scott Petty, Dick Bryant, Mike Heesom.

The World Environment Day Awards are an annual national awards program run by the United Nations Association of Australia. This year the awards acknowledge actions taken at a local level to address global environmental issues. World Environment Day is 5 June.