March 31 | 2022

The first year of Black to the Future

3 december 2021

The first year of Black to the Future has passed and it’s time to sum up!!
Several activities have been conducted in 2021 although the Covid-19 third wave. Black to Future’s consortium has been engaged in activities that included scientific experiments, market and business analyzes and educational events together with the new generations of high school students

We planned several experimental trials with application of biochar, compost and CBmix™ as soil amendment to evaluate agronomical aspects of biochar and CBmix™ related to soil health with especial attention on soil organic matter (SOM), nutrient dynamics (mainly N and P) and soil microbiology. Additionally, further agronomical parameters related to crop yield and quality and plant nutritional status have been evaluated.

Four locations have been selected to set up the field scale experiments which were designed to cover a wide range of cultivars and agroclimatic conditions of relevance for vast areas of South Europe prone to soil degradation process. The crops investigated included: olive orchards in South Spain managed by CSIC; vineyards, managed by CRPV and University of Bologna in two locations in Italy; a pomegranate orchard managed by Cyprus University of Technology.

The application of a CBmix™ showed a synergistic impact on the levels of dissolved N in soil, suggesting a boost on the microbial processes transforming N, and more specifically on the concentration of Nitrous Oxide
Black to the Future experiments showed that the burying of CBmix™, Compost, and Biochar, at about 30-35 cm, in existing vineyards, at the vegetative restart, does not involve particular operational difficulties. Furthermore, in the field trials carried out in Italy, on loamy soils, with a sub-alkaline pH, a good level of mineralization of the compost was observed and, therefore, a constant supply of nutrients for the vine. The application of the innovative matrices did not negatively interfere with the phenological development of the plant. The vines of the plots in which CBmix™, Compost and Biochar were distributed showed a normal supply of mineral elements at veraison and an appreciable vegetative-productive balance, despite the anomalous meteorological course of the 2021 vintage. In addition, higher production values were highlighted in plots where CBmix™, Compost and Biochar were distributed, especially in those where CBmix™ was buried.

Biochar and CBmix™ treatments led to the highest and most persistent increase in TOC in soil, whereas compost significantly increased soluble C and N.

Application of CBmix™ showed a synergistic effect, suggesting a boost on the microbial processes transforming N, without a parallel increase in N2O emissions.

Crop yield and olive tree nutritional status were not significantly affected by any of the organic amendments in the time frame of the project.

In CBmix™ plots a good level of mineralization of the Compost was observed and, therefore, a constant supply of nutrients for the grapevine.

Higher productivity values were highlighted in plots treated with CBmix™ compared to the control.

CBmix™ distribution improved Total Soluble Solids concentration, at harvest, in two different grapevine varieties.

Nowadays, biochar is a material well known not only to the scientific community. Indeed, its benefits for soil improvement and its CO2 storage capacity have been extensively illustrated. The global biochar market reached a valuation of US$ 8 Mio in 2020, which amounts to around 0.23% share of the overall charcoal market. Sales of biochar are slated to rise at a CAGR of 11% to top US$ 23 Mio by 2031. Demand for pyrolysis technology in biochar is set to increase at a CAGR of 10% across the assessment period of 2021 to 2031 (source: Fact.MR- Biochar Market).

International Biochar Initiative (IBI) documented the number of companies operating in biochar sector, counting 326 companies in 2015.

Governments are pushing people to use biochar for farming because it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as nitrous oxide and methane. With increase in technological developments in sustainable agriculture, biochar uses in agriculture from both, developed and developing countries, has been steadily increasing. However, how demonstrated by Meyer (Meyer et al., 2017), since 2011 when the European Biochar Certificate (EBC) was introduced, biochar was a class of material not yet foreseen in EU and member states national legal frameworks. Governmental administrations of EU countries needed, therefore, a sophisticated product definition in order to integrate biochar in existing legally binding fertilizer and soil ordinances (where these existed).

In Italy, the edition No. 186 of the Italian law gazette “Gazzetta Ufficiale Della Republica Italiana” published a modification of the Annexes 2 and 7 of the fertilizer decree number 75 of 29 April 2010 (Decreto Legislativo 75/2010). With these modifications, made following a request presented by the Italian Biochar Association (ICHAR), the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry included biochar in the list of soil amendments which are permitted to be used in the Italian agricultural sector and defined technical specifications for this product.

Although some European Countries accept the use of biochar in agriculture as a soil improver, the use of biochar as an additive for compost is not envisaged.

The benefit that biochar can bring to compost has been scientifically proven. It can improve composting performance, humification process, enhances microbial diversity and activity, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and immobilizes potentially toxic metals (PTMs) and organic pollutants associated with the compost.

EU Directive 2019/1009 (not yet public, from 2022) shows that mix biochar-compost can be applied without co-maturation with final mixing of compost (CMC3) and biochar (CMC 14) to originate PFC – 3 “soil improver” (it is also possible to co-ripen the compost with to make a compost (CMC 3) with a limited percentage (less than 5% by weight) of biochar; this CMC 3 (with 5% co-matured biochar) can be mixed at the end of the process with other biochar to obtain PFC 3).

From a legislative point of view, the Black to the Future project plans to submit a formal request to the Ministry of Agriculture to request that the European directive be transposed quickly to allow the use of the biochar-compost mix.

This legislative process will ensure the registration of the CBMIX in the national fertilizer register.

The innovative aspects behind the production of biochar-compost mix lay in the accurate valorisation of waste materials as production inputs and, on the offer side, in the provision of an agronomic product characterized by enhanced attributes related to fertilization, soil amendment capacity and carbon sequestration. The value proposition meets several advantages that farmers consider relevant about the use of organic fertilizers. The circular business model mapped out opens to further investigations, including cost-benefit analysis to measure profitability, and SWOT analysis concerning the opportunity to produce the biochar-compost mix in different contexts.

Given the needs of the startup and the analysis of the problems, it is necessary to carry out several preliminary actions:

Action 1. To carry on a process with the EU authorities about the inclusion of the new CBmix™ (with a mix of compost and biochar from the early stages of production) in the European regulations on fertilizers to have the possibility of using both the CBMix™ products.

Action 2. To carry out additional research on the use, management, conservation, and best practices on both the CBMix™ products to have the chance to give all the technical assistance to the farmers.

Action 3. To carry out additional research on pelletizing techniques to make the startup more profitable.

Action 4. To identify targets, competitors and to analyze the market context after the end of the 3 actions above.

The key moment is certainly July 2022, the month in which the New European Fertilizer Regulation (new (EU) 1009/2019) will be made public.

Educational events with high school students and training with farmers to spread Black to the Future activities and increase farmer and students’ awareness regarding sustainable agriculture and circular economy.

Three educational farm labs have been organized. The educational programme allowed to provide several competencies to the students according to the EIT competency framework.

We organized a 3h class with students showing the scientific methodology and the business point of view. But, above all the circular economy and regenerative agriculture vision have been communicated.

The students had the chance to learn more in detail as a company can do a new business with circularity doing good to the Environment and our Earth.