The Production of Biochar from Lignocellulosic Waste Destined for Municipal Landfills

Lay Summary 

This research project is focused on examining the feasibility of converting lignocellulosic-based solid waste streams destined for landfill, into a valuable biochar product. Biochar has many applications including a soil amendment to improve soil fertility and a low-cost adsorbent such as control of odorous sulphur pollutants in air emissions and as an adsorption surface for toxic metals in industrial waste streams.

We have delivered the first inventory of useful lignocellulosic-derived material present in St. John’s municipal waste by sampling a number of household garbage pickups. We have further extended this inventory to institutional waste (Memorial U.) and have also examined demolition and garden waste as potential biochar feedstock. Individual feed stocks (i.e., newsprint, inked white paper, corrugated box, etc.) were collected and characterized. Biochar were produced from a home-made pyrolysis unit. Important chemical and physical properties of the samples were measured for commercial use in soil amendment, industrial use as gas and contaminant adsorbent and for the production of activated carbon.

Results: Samples which gave highest yields of low ash biochar were plywood and wood (demolition waste) followed by wood chips and twigs (garden waste). These samples can be used for making activated carbon. Samples which produced biochar suitable as effective adsorbents were newsprint and paper towels. A promising number of other biochar samples were deemed useful as a commercial soil amendment additive.

Future work: We plan to design and build a pilot-scale pyrolysis unit of simple design, inexpensive and using 50 gal barrels (Barrel-pyr). The 10 kg-quantities of biochar product (from mixed lignocellulosic waste) will be used in demonstration garden plots. Small farms and rural communities will be encouraged to use of the Barrel-pyr as a way of diverting solid wastes while improving soil properties. In future studies, chicken manure and fish plant waste will be utilized in biochar production.

The Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development
Harris Centre Solid Waste Management Applied Research Fund
St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Land use
Research and Development
Industry Sectors 
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
Support Activities for Agriculture and Forestry
Administrative and Support, Waste Management and Remediation Services
Scientific Research and Development Services
Start date 
1 Jan 2011
End date 
31 Dec 2012