Biochar in Indonesia


Indonesia’s vast expanse of palm oil plantations stands on the edge of an agricultural breakthrough with the exploration of biochar production. With an economy significantly dependent on palm oil exports, incorporating biochar presents not only an ecological reversal of attitude but also a commercial opportunity with far-reaching benefits.

Biochar, a stable form of carbon-rich material, derived from the pyrolysis of biomass, offers a multifaceted solution to both environmental and industrial challenges faced by the palm oil sector. The process involves heating organic residue from palm oil production, in an oxygen-deprived environment. The pyrolysis of organic waste material, a technique often described as ‘carbon-negative’, to produce biochar holds considerable promise in mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon, improving soil health, and potentially revolutionising the Indonesian palm oil industry.  

As it is a stable form of carbon, biochar can endure in soil for hundreds perhaps thousands of years, thereby making it an effective way of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Furthermore, the ‘carbon-negative’ aspect of biochar production is increasingly becoming recognised as an important mechanism to lock up carbon and prevent its release to atmosphere. Consequently, biochar production is seen as a key component of international efforts to mitigate global warming. By integrating palm oil biochar into the agricultural practices, the palm oil industry can generate carbon credits, where one credit represents the removal of one metric tonne of carbon from the atmosphere. These credits can then be traded on carbon markets, providing an incentive for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Voluntary Carbon Market

The voluntary carbon market is a rapidly evolving and growing sector that allows companies and individuals to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits from projects that reduce, avoid, or remove carbon emissions. In recent years, the market has experienced significant growth and increased interest from a wide range of stakeholders.

According to the State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2023 report by Ecosystem Marketplace, the voluntary carbon market reached a transaction value of just under $2 billion in 2023.

Many companies, including major corporations, have made ambitious climate commitments, such as achieving net-zero emissions by a specific target year. To meet these goals, companies are increasingly turning to the voluntary carbon market to offset their unavoidable emissions. This has led to a surge in demand for high-quality carbon credits and a greater focus on the benefits of carbon projects, such as a reduction in the carbon footprint of agriculture, biodiversity conservation, and community development.

The global biochar market is still in its early stages of development but is expected to grow significantly in the coming years due to increasing demand for sustainable solutions to mitigate climate change and enhance soil health. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global biochar market size was valued at USD 1.6 billion in 2023 and is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.2% from 2024 to 2030. The market is segmented based on feedstock type, application, and region, with woody biomass being the dominant feedstock and agriculture being the largest application segment. Several companies are investing in research and development to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of biochar production and are also focusing on expanding their distribution networks to cater to the growing demand from various end-use industries. As more countries adopt policies and regulations to support the use of biochar in agriculture and carbon sequestration projects, the market is expected to witness significant growth opportunities in the coming years.

Integrating biochar into the carbon credits system faces several challenges that need to be addressed to ensure its successful implementation. One of the primary obstacles is the development of standardised methods for verifying the actual carbon sequestration potential of biochar. This requires rigorous scientific testing and monitoring to accurately quantify the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and stored in the biochar over an extended period. Additionally, establishing a reliable and transparent system for tracking the long-term stability of biochar in various soil types and climatic conditions is crucial to maintain the integrity of the carbon credits.

Furthermore, gaining broad acceptance among stakeholders, including palm oil producers, carbon credit buyers, and regulatory bodies, requires clear communication of the benefits and risks associated with biochar-based carbon credits, as well as the development of fair and equitable pricing mechanisms.

Despite these hurdles, the opportunity for promoting sustainable practices and creating a ‘green’ side industry cannot be ignored. As companies and countries strive to reduce their carbon footprints, the demand for verifiable and effective carbon credits is soaring. Palm oil biochar presents a lucrative opportunity for producers to engage in the emerging green economy. This might not only lead to a new stream of income but also encourage more sustainable practices in the palm oil industry.

The Organics Pyroclast®

Over the last 15 years the Organics Group has developed and refined a system for the production of biochar. Developed primarily as an alternative treatment for organic waste material, the Pyroclast® pyrolysis system treats a wide range of feedstocks. By varying heating rates, retention times, and temperatures, the Pyroclast® can optimise the pyrolysis process for each specific feedstock, ensuring efficient conversion and high-quality biochar production. This flexibility allows the system to adapt to the unique characteristics of different organic materials, maximising its potential for carbon sequestration and other applications.

In the context of palm oil waste, the Pyroclast® can effectively process empty fruit bunches, kernel shells, and fronds, converting these residues into biochar. However, the system’s capabilities extend far beyond the palm oil industry. Forestry waste, such as bark, branches, and other woody biomass, can also be transformed into biochar using the Pyroclast. This not only provides a sustainable solution for managing forestry residues but also creates opportunities for carbon sequestration and soil amendment in the forestry sector.

Moreover, the Pyroclast® can process digestate from anaerobic digestion plants. Anaerobic digestion is a process that breaks down organic matter in the absence of oxygen, producing biogas and a nutrient-rich digestate. While biogas can be used for energy generation, the digestate often requires further treatment or disposal. By subjecting the digestate to pyrolysis using the Pyroclast®, it can be converted into biochar, reducing waste and creating a valuable product with numerous applications.

The Pyroclast’s® ability to handle other organic waste sources further expands its potential for biochar production. Food waste, agricultural residues, and even sewage sludge can be processed by the system, providing a sustainable alternative to landfilling or incineration. By converting these waste streams into biochar, the Pyroclast® contributes to the development of a circular economy, where waste is transformed into a resource with environmental and economic benefits.

The versatility of the Pyroclast® system in treating a wide range of organic materials positions it as a key technology in the biochar industry. Its ability to process palm oil waste, forestry residues, digestate, and other organic waste sources enables the production of high-quality biochar with best-in-class carbon sequestration characteristics. This flexibility not only maximises the potential for carbon sequestration but also opens up new opportunities for sustainable waste management and the creation of value-added products across various sectors.

Benefits of Biochar

In terms of biochar as a supplement for agriculture, its primary benefits include that its porous structure traps both carbon and water. This means that, when applied to soil, biochar not only locks away carbon but also enhances soil fertility through water retention. Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated that controlled application of biochar to agricultural land significantly increases crop yield.

This multi-faceted benefit amplifies its value in agriculture and the carbon offset market. For Indonesia’s palm oil plantations, which cover about 14 million hectares, this translates to reduced dependence on chemical fertilisers, improved crop yields, and lower irrigation costs. Increased productivity directly benefits the economic output of the industry, while simultaneously reducing environmental degradation.

Furthermore, biochar can serve as a raw material in the production of specialty chemicals and as an activated carbon filtration medium. The palm oil industry can tap into this latent market by transforming waste into wealth. By employing the vast amounts of biomass generated, such as empty fruit bunches, shells, and fronds, the sector can not only reduce waste streams but also add value through the production of this versatile material. This would contribute to a circular economy model, enhancing both sustainability and profitability.

The potential for biochar production translates into the potential for Indonesia to capitalise on the sale of carbon credits, particularly for the displacement of fossil fuel use and for sequestering carbon in soils. Such a mechanism would provide a financial incentive to palm oil producers to adopt more sustainable practices while aligning with Indonesia’s climate goals.

Beyond its direct applications, biochar production would stimulate job creation and provide a local energy source. The pyrolysis process can also be applied to generate other products apart from biochar. These include wood vinegar, bio-oil and syngas, products that can be used to produce renewable heat and energy. The process is self-sustaining and does not require additional fuel to operate. Surplus heat can be used to deliver energy to rural areas, bolster energy security, and foster socio-economic development.

The benefits span the environmental and social spectrum. From reducing methane emissions from decomposing waste to mitigating the risk of palm oil mill effluent by repurposing it into biochar, the prospects for improving the ecological footprint of the palm oil industry are immense. Additionally, by incorporating biochar into its supply chain, the industry could enhance its global reputation, thus opening doors to more ecologically conscious markets.

Biochar in Indonesia

The development of a biochar industry in Indonesia has the potential to generate significant socio-economic benefits, particularly in rural areas where palm oil plantations are prevalent. The production of biochar from palm oil waste can create new employment opportunities across the supply chain, from biomass collection and transportation to pyrolysis plant operation and biochar distribution. This can help to diversify the local economy and provide alternative income sources for communities that are heavily dependent on palm oil cultivation. Moreover, the use of biochar in agriculture can lead to improved soil fertility, increased crop yields, and reduced dependence on chemical fertilisers, which can enhance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The establishment of decentralised biochar production facilities can also promote rural development by providing access to clean energy in the form of syngas, which can be used for cooking, heating, and electricity generation.

Yet, challenges remain. Commercialising biochar necessitates overcoming technological, logistical, and regulatory hurdles. Improving pyrolysis efficiency, establishing supply chains for biomass collection, and developing policies that support the biochar market are essential steps in this trajectory.

The Indonesian government, researchers, and industry stakeholders must collaborate to unlock this potential. Investments in R&D, incentives for sustainable practices, and educational programs for farmers could be vital components of such an endeavour. Policy frameworks must provide clear guidelines for production standards and certification to foster market confidence in biochar.

The innovative use of palm oil waste to produce biochar with significant carbon sequestration potential represents a vibrant intersection of environmental stewardship and economic viability. As the circular economy becomes imperative, Innovative practices like these are vital in the shared fight against climate change. If done responsibly, palm oil biochar can be part of a solution, turning ‘Green Gold’ into an asset for both the planet and the industry.

Biochar production heralds not just an eco-friendly innovation in waste management, but a promising commercial venture for the Indonesian palm oil sector. By seizing this opportunity, Indonesia can lead the way in sustainable agriculture, showcasing how environmental stewardship and economic gains can coalesce for the greater global good. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Organics Privacy Policy

Data Privacy and Protection Policy

Follow by Email
Follow Me
We stand with Ukraine