Biochar potential in South Africa



Department of Environmental Affairs

Problem Statement:

Biochar is manufactured by burning organic material in a reduced oxygen environment. The product can be burnt as an energy source, used in water treatment, added to animal feed and chicken litter, and in many other applications. However one of the main interests in biochar globally is in its potential to be applied to the land, thereby both capturing the carbon in the biochar for extensive periods of time, and at the same time improving soil quantity.

The Department of Environmental Affairs commissioned this study to determine the potential for biochar to contribute to carbon sequestration in South Africa. The study was to look at feedstock sources, technologies for biochar manufacture and suitable soils and locations for biochar application.

The Green House approach:

The project commenced with a detailed literature review of international experience in production of biochar. It then went on to map the geographical location of potential feedstock sources, with a focus on cleared alien vegetation and sawmill wastes, as well as the location of suitable soils for application. A financial model was developed to determine where and under what conditions biochar manufacture may be financially viable, particularly considering the costs of transport of feedstock and product. The desktop analysis was complemented with a number of site visits to existing biochar manufacturers in order to document on-the-ground experiences.


The study highlighted pros, cons and uncertainties associated with using biochar as a carbon sequestration and soil conditioning product in South Africa, thus providing a starting point for further work to be done on this topic in the local context. The DEA will be using the project outcomes to provide a basis for launching a research programme on biochar in South Africa, to support its further uptake in the country. Private sector developers are also using the study to support the growth of their businesses.