UK-Ukraine Network

UK - Ukraine Network

Biochar for negative emissions (BiocharPro):

Supporting the capacity building of Ukrainian Biochar Production and Research


Biochar is the lightweight black residue, made of carbon and ashes, remaining after the pyrolysis of biomass, and is a form of charcoal. Biochar is defined by the International Biochar Initiative as "the solid material obtained from the thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment". Biochar is a stable solid that is rich in pyrogenic carbon and can endure in soil for thousands of years.

The refractory stability of biochar leads to the concept of pyrogenic carbon capture and storage (PyCCS), i.e. carbon sequestration in the form of biochar. It may be a means to mitigate climate change due to its potential to sequester carbon with minimal effort. Biochar may increase the soil fertility of acidic soils and increase agricultural productivity. Biochar is mainly used for soil application and is known to improve soil nutrient availability, aeration in soil, and soil water filtration. There exist various approaches for utilizing biochar, including but not limited to soil amendment, slash-and-char, water retention, stock fodder, and concrete additives.

Biochar has been widely viewed as an environmentally positive material for soil. However, it is crucial to take into account the potential adverse effects of biochar, such as disturbing soil pH levels, or introducing harmful chemical characteristics that cause problems at the micro dimension. Therefore, caution should be exercised when considering the applications of biochar as research continues to explore the positive and negative effects of biochar.

Network Rationale

Developing scalable negative-emission technologies (NET) is essential for meeting the 1.5 ° C climate target. Compared to other NET technologies such as CO2 capture and storage (CCS), the biochar system has the advantage of low cost, versatility and robustness. The application of biochar in ecosystems could reduce more than 1GtCO2-eq per year, corresponding to almost 2% of current global greenhouse gas emissions. To realise the potential of biochar at a large scale, a holistic re-map and development are necessary for the production and application of biochar and the related
technical, environmental, economic and sectoral policies and regulations.

The UK has a strong bioenergy research community, championed by large programmes such as the SuperGen Bioenergy Hub. On the other hand, biochar-specific research activities lack visibility and coherence, scattered in different areas and research teams. There are promising signs that biochar research starts to gather momentum, evidently by the latest UKRI £4.5m Biochar Demonstrator for the world’s largest trial on biochar to store carbon from the atmosphere led by the University of Nottingham. While the Biochar Demonstator is focused on biochar application for soil amendment,
it is equally important to address the challenges for biochar production given the fact that the UK imports 90% of its biochar. To further accelerate biochar development and gain benefits for a wider research community, it is necessary to bring together researchers in relevant fields from academia and industry, covering all aspects of biochar systems from production to applications, thus enabling the UK to make its deserved contributions to such important negative carbon emission technologies.

The project was timely when the UK team was approached by the Ukrainian partners to support their biochar research and product development. Ukraine has a large amount of forest and agricultural waste that could be converted into high-quality biochar. Ukraine needs to secure a source of high-quality carbon for a) the silicon industry, b) biochar for soil improvement (especially for remediation of TNT from the battle-filled), and c) porous carbon for nuclear station security, industrial water and gas clearing. The project has received support from Ukrainian industrial leaders (PJSC Gnidavsky
Sugar plant- the largest sugar producer in Ukraine, PE SB Plus-one of the biggest distributors of agricultural products) and policymakers (Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine), endorsed by their letters of support.

The traditional production of biochar is through the pyrolysis of various biomass feedstocks such as agricultural waste and biomass crops. By-products such as syngas and bio-oil could be utilised for fuel and energy purposes. The application of biochar can dramatically contribute to net carbon reduction with frontier engineering applications such as soil amendment, fuel cells, energy storage (i.e. battery) systems, gas storage (i.e. hydrogen), micro-electronic systems, etc. By holistically reviewing the feedstock, pyrolysis process, biochar stability and the ways of high-value biochar applications, a novel systematic approach will be formulated to enhance the biochar system feasibility; for example, prior to the soil ament, biochar can be used as a sustainable energy material in fuel cell, energy storage (i.e. battery) systems, microelectronic systems, etc.

Motivated by the above vision, the BiocharPro network is designed to consolidate biochar research and industrial activities in the UK, promote international connections, and help the capacity building for Ukraine in this critical area. The project will tackle the technical, economic, environmental, social and skill challenges in a comprehensive view rather than individual problems, maximising negative carbon emissions and developing expertise in key processing technologies, building critical mass in academics across the supply chain, and promoting collaboration across the
stakeholders in relevant sectors. We want to create a network stimulating innovation, enabling the knowledge exchange, training future scientists and engineers with a greater understanding of advanced Biochar technology and creating opportunities to improve the sustainability of our environment. Thus, the engagement between the UK and Ukraine partners will help bioenergy development and bioresource management in Ukraine. In addition, the network allows Ukraine universities and companies to access the UK facilities and expertise, as indicated in the track record section (e.g. facilities for biochar production, biochar application for CO2 capture, the standardisation of biochar). The network will add value to the SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub, a successful UK platform for bridging academic, industrial and policymakers for bioenergy development, and ultimately will help the Ukrainian partners to develop their version of SUPERGEN Hub.

Prof. Sai Gu

Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor

University of Warwick

Professor Sai Gu is Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor (China) at University of Warwick. Prior to his current appointment, he was the Head of School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, at the University of Surrey. He obtained a PhD in Material Modelling from the University of Nottingham. He further pursued this material research as Post-doc at the University of Cambridge.  

Professor Gu has an international reputation for clean energy and material research. He has a long track-record of coordinating large collaborative projects with international partners and has successfully won over £10 million in grants from EPSRC, EU, Innovate UK and industry.

Professor Gu is an advocate of connected technologies for chemical engineering and has established the Centre for Connected Plants of the Future to bring together multi-disciplinary expertise cross the University of Surrey, exploring the development of technology-driven innovation for chemical industry. The latest success includes leading the EPSRC project “Stepping towards the industrial 6th sense”.

Dr Chunfei Wu


Queen's University Belfast

Chunfei is the coordinator of an EU RISE international exchange programme in relation to biomass gasification and carbon capture and utilisation (Ref; EU823745, €864,400) (2019-2022) coordinating 15 research groups. Dr Wu is a Co-I of EU H2020-MSCA-RISE-2019 (€874,000) for sustainable biorefinery towards value-added chemicals. Dr Wu has also been involved in several EPSRC, Innovate UK, Royal Society and other EU projects, such as the host academic for a Royal Society K.C. Wong International Fellowship (Ref: NIF\R1\191817). He has published ~200 peer-reviewed journal papers with >8500 citations (H index of 56, Google Scholar) in thermo-chemical conversion of wastes and CO2 capture. He is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Carbon Capture Science & Technology, an IChemE journal.

Although only two named investigated allowed for a network project, BiocharPro is greatly enhanced by the contributions from the following expertise and strong partnerships with the UK national Catapults, UKRI Hubs/Network+ and industries in the relevant stakeholders.

Ukrainian Capacity Building:

Prof. Elena Korosteleva

Professor of Global Sustainable Development

University of Warwick

Elena is a Professor of Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick, and Jean Monnet Chair of European Politics, which she was awarded twice by the European Commission in recognition of her research and teaching excellence.

Elena’s research focus is on sustainable communities from resilience and complexity-thinking perspectives, across Eastern Europe and Central Eurasia. Her recent £4mln GCRF COMPASS project (ES/P010849/1; £4mln; 2017-22) focused on capacity-building for sustainable development and was highly commended by the Times Higher Education (THE) under the category of the Best International Collaboration of the Year (2021). As part of the project she successfully pioneered a flying-faculty Training School model for Early Career Researchers and set up a Minsk Dialogue Policy forum, attended by 800 regional and international policymakers and practitioners. Elena’s successful funding applications exceed £8mln. She is the author of over 100 publications, including 11 monographs.

SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub:

Prof. Patricia Thornley

Director of Energy and Bioproducts Research

Aston University

Patricia is Director of the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute at Aston University and Associate Dean for Research at Aston’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. She is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering with 28 years of experience working on energy projects in industry and academia. Patricia has led the UK’s national bioenergy research programme (the SUPERGEN Bioenergy hub) since 2012.

Patricia’s research focuses on the sustainability assessment of energy systems (particularly bioenergy and low-carbon fuels), evaluating the environmental, economic and social consequences of implementation pathways. She served as an expert in the 2020 UK Climate Assembly. Currently, she is an appointed member of the Scientific Advisory Council for the Department for Transport, an energy working group supporting HM Treasury Green Technical Advisory Group, Defra’s Tree and Woodland Scientific Advisory Group, National Farmers’ Union Net Zero Advisory Board and Industrial Decarbonisation of Industrial Clusters independent advisory board. In the last 12 years, she has been PI on £11M UKRI funding and Co-I on a further £19M. She has served as editor-in-chief of the Q1 journal Biomass and Bioenergy for 3 years.

Biochar Carbon Storage Demonstrator:

Dr Chenggong Sun

Associate Professor

University of Nottingham

Chenggong is an associate professor in Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham. He has over 100 peer-reviewed publications and has been a PI and Co-I of numerous projects funded by UK research councils, BEIS, industries and international institutions, such as the ones by EPSRC (EP/R001308/1, EP/M01536X/1), BBSRC (BB/T0203501/1). The total research funding involved has been well in excess of £20m. One of his current focuses of research involves the demonstration of biochar production and land application for CO2 bio-sequestration in soil, which represents the world’s largest trial to evaluate the viability of biochar to sequestrate CO2 from the air with potential benefits of improved agricultural productivity.

Biochar Research Centre:

Prof. Ondřej Mašek

Professor in Engineering System

University of Edinburgh

Ondřej is a Professor in Engineering Systems at the University of Edinburgh and Lead of Biochar Production and Development at the UK Biochar Research Centre (UKBRC). Professor Mašek co-founded the UK Biochar Research Centre at the School of Geosciences. His research includes the conversion of biomass to biochar and co-products for the purpose of atmospheric carbon sequestration with a main focus on targeted biochar products (engineered biochar) and informed selection, i.e., a more sophisticated method for biochar production and application, allowing higher desired impacts with lower inputs. Professor Mašek has led and participated in a number of UK and EU projects and has a number of active collaborations with industry.

Biomass Facility:

Prof. Paul Williams

Professor in Environmental Engineering

University of Leeds

Paul is a Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Leeds. He has published more than 400 peer-reviewed journal papers and 100 conference papers with >31,500 citations to his work and with an ‘h index’ of 96 (Google Scholar). He has been awarded 30 EPSRC grants and EC, Defra, TSB and industrial research grants, totalling over £15M. Professor Williams’ research contribution has produced key advances in advanced thermal treatment of biomass with an emphasis on the development of novel processes. His research work has been honoured by several awards including the Steetley-Magnesia Award the Lubbock-Sambrook Award from the Energy Institute and the Telford Premium Prize of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He is a member of the Editorial Boards of the journals, Environmental Technology, Waste and Biomass Valorization, Biofuels and also Fuel.

Materials Lab:

Prof. Ben Xu

Professor in Materials and Mechanics

University of Northumbria

Ben is a Professor in materials and mechanics at the University of Northumbria, who is leading the research group of Smart Materials and Surfaces Lab (SMSL) and chairing the Materials Characterisation&Properties Group in the Institute of Materials, Mining and Minerals (IoM3). He has published over 140 peer-reviewed journals and won multiple awards (2016 Young Investigator award from the International Polymer Networks Group, etc.). His work on smart materials and active surfaces has been awarded projects with a total value of over £ 2 M (EPSRC EP/N007921, EP/L026899; Royal Society RG150662, KTP-R1-191012, IEC\NSFC\201126; etc).

Lead on Network Activities in Ukraine:

Dr Vitaly Budarin

Head of the R&D

Perechin Timber and Chemicals Plant

Vitaly is the Head of the R&D department of the Perechin timber and chemical plant. With over 25 years of experience, Vitaly has an h-index of 42 and Citations > 7400. He has been involved in many projects in material science and microwave chemistry, with a total value estimated at around £15 Million. The BiocharPro network will directly involve the following Ukrainian Partners and grow the participation of Ukrainian partners throughout the project.

Perechin timber and chemicals plant (PTCP) is one of the largest in Europe with an annual production capacity of 40,000 tons of charcoal and 30,000 tons of ethyl acetate. PTCP’s operations include a new carbonisation process based on rotary kiln technology (up to 6000 t/a biochar) commissioned to utilise sawdust waste and the development of a new type of mesoporous bio-based material named Δ-Carbon with further research to increase its production and applications.

Mariya Maha is the Chief Sustainable Development Officer at PTCP, with a Master's Degree in Logistics and Management, and a Master's Degree in Forestry Management. Over 10 years of experience in charcoal production from Sales Manager to Chief Sustainable Development Officer.

Dr Alla Obors'ka

Chief Operating Officer

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) Ukraine

Prof. Olena Pinchevska

Head of Department of Technology and Wood Design Products

National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine (NULES)

Alla is the Chief Operating Officer of the PEFC Ukraine. She has over 20 years of practical experience in forestry at state and communal forestry enterprises. Expertise in legality and law enforcement in forestry at the national and local levels. Expert in the ENPI-FLEG II program on the research of local community rights and existing conflicts over access to forest resources.

Olena is the Head of the Department of Technology and Wood Design Products. Olena has more than 40 years of research experience in the woodworking and furniture industry, executing projects at national and international levels.