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New findings to help manage climate change

Minister Roberts presenting Wollongbar-based DPI Senior  Principal Research Scientist Lukas Van Zwieten with one of the NSW Premier's Prizes for Science & Engineering in the category Innovation in Public Sector Science & Engineering.
Minister Roberts presenting Wollongbar-based DPI Senior Principal Research Scientist Lukas Van Zwieten with one of the NSW Premier's Prizes for Science & Engineering in the category Innovation in Public Sector Science & Engineering.

LOCATED at the Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute work has been going on that has led to international scientific recognition.

Cutting-edge research from NSW Department of Primary Industries' (DPI) has been published in the international Nature Climate Change Journal, presenting for the first time the results of 10 years' research that shows the accumulation of carbon in soil following a single application of biochar.

Biochar is the charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

NSW DPI senior principal research scientist, Adjunct Professor Southern Cross University and project leader, Dr Lukas Van Zwieten said the research was conducted on the state's north coast where biochar derived from eucalypt residues was applied in 2006 into a pasture soil managed for intensive dairy production.

"We immediately saw an increase in soil carbon from the biochar, as expected, but what we didn't expect was that soil carbon content continued to increase,” Dr Van Zwieten said.

"This research demonstrates the ongoing benefits of biochar in farming systems to improve pastures and grasslands and increase farmers production and profitability.”

Biochar is produced through a process known as pyrolysis which makes the organic carbon more stable to degradation.

To find out why the soil carbon level continued to increase after biochar was added to the soil, Dr Van Zwieten enlisted the help of then PhD student Zhe (Han) Weng, enrolled through the University of New England and located at the Wollongbar premises.

"Biochar accelerated the formation of soil microaggregates via interactions between organic matter and soil minerals, thus stabilising the root-derived carbon,” Dr Van Zwieten said.

Southern Cross University's Associate Professor Terry Rose, a co-author of the study, said the biochar also impacted on turnover of existing soil carbon.

"Importantly, the biochar also slowed down the natural breakdown of native soil organic carbon by over five per cent,” he said.

Han Weng's co-supervisor, NSW DPI technical specialist climate policy, Dr Annette Cowie, said that these new findings are important for managing climate change, and for global CO2 accounting.

"The research has relevance to 3500 million hectares of grassland worldwide,” Dr Cowie said.

Topics:  biochar climate change dpi nsw department of primary industries


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