Tailoring biochar for environmental applications

Summary

Biomass-derived natural biochar, also referred to as black carbon, is ubiquitous in soils. Soil biochar can influence a number of biogeochemical processes, and serves as a sink for atmospheric CO2 in soil. In the past few years, there has been growing interest in the use of synthesised biochar as a soil amendment worldwide. Due to the relatively stable biological state of biochar, its production for soil application has been proposed as a way of diverting waste biomass carbon from a rapid to a slow carbon-cycling pool in soil. The use of biochar as a soil amendment has the potential to mitigate climate change and reduce soil degradation. However, biochar stability depends on factors such as soil mineral composition and soil temperature which is not well understood. The research will determine the impact of biochar–mineral interactions on biochar stability and its potential for improving soil condition and quality. The outcomes will facilitate accurate accounting of the greenhouse benefits of biochar technology, and thereby enhance the likelihood of acceptance under carbon trading schemes.

Supervisor(s)

Professor Balwant Singh

Research Location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program Type

PHD

Synopsis

Biochar may persist in soil for long periods, however, its longevity is not known accurately and it is thought to be strongly influenced by soil mineralogy. An improved understanding of impact of biochar–mineral interactions on soil properties will be the basis for devising the best-management practice of biochar to enhance soil carbon sequestration and will assist in adaptation of Australian agriculture and forestry to the impact of climate change. The project aims to achieve a process-based understanding of biochar–mineral interactions in soils of different mineralogy and to assess the impact of these interactions on key soil properties. This will involve:

  • the characterisation of the molecular and chemical changes in biochar added to artificial soils of contrasting mineralogy, over time and in different environmental conditions;
  • the investigation of mechanisms of biochar–mineral interaction in soils of different mineral compositions; and 
  • the assessment of the impact of biochar–mineral interaction on soil C sequestration and the chemical and physical properties of soil.

Additional Information

We are seeking a PhD student with soil chemistry background to work on this project and a grant application has been submitted for the project. The potential candidate may have to apply for scholarships available from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources or the University of Sydney. 
The project will involve intensive laboratory work and the student will gain knowledge and skill in using several advanced analytical techniques such as NMR, FTI and XPS spectroscopies. 
The candidate will be based as part of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the Australian Technology Park.

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree; 
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.); 
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision; 
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting); 
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks; 
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden); 
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights; 
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment); 
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence; 
  • Hold a current scuba diving license; 
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check; 
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.) 

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Keywords

Biochar, Soil carbon, soil mineralogy, soil science, carbon sequestration

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 598

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