Carbon insetting with biochar. Towards harmonization of EPD and Biochar Carbon Removal methodologies

Main Presenter:    Benedikt Zimmermann 

Co-Authors:   Anna Lehner                                               

According to the IPCC, Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is necessary for reaching the Paris Agreement’s GHG goals. Today, Biochar Carbon Removal (BCR) is the technology-based CDR method that provides most carbon drawdown. While other CDR methods, like DACCS and BECCS store CO2 in geological formations, BCR turns biogenic carbon into a durable, non-biodegradable solid and sequesters it in soil or sediments. Another approach is adding biochar to long-life product matrices that are either landfilled, recycled indefinitely, or left in place, i.e. concrete or asphalt.
In Europe’s voluntary BCR market, several MRV methods (measuring, reporting, verification) have been established to quantify the net removal effect of BCR (e.g. standards of and Carbon Standards International). Removal quantification relies on LCA methodology to calculate a biochar-application’s carbon drawdown potential and its final net-negative emission when reaching a durable endpoint.
Our contribution highlights key knowledge & implementation gaps for scaling durable CDR through insetting. Today, most BCR is based on soil-applications. Certificates are often sold to buyers outside of agriculture as an emission offset on a voluntary market. However, with biochar-additives in industrial products, it is more likely that manufacturers want negative emission credits to be “inset”, thus accounted on behalf of the product that contains biochar, to improve the product’s environmental footprint. By insetting BCR-credits in products, BCR reaches Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) territory.
Unfortunately, BCR and EPD methodology are currently incompatible due to limitations on both sides. EPD currently does not acknowledge negative emissions and permanent biogenic carbon. While EPD gives credit for negative CO2 flows from biomass growth, it is always assumed that biomass is turned into CO2 at the end of life. In contrast, the effect of BCR is to prevent carbon from turning into CO2 for at least hundreds or thousands of years.
Since BCR and EPD methodologies are currently incompatible, industry partners experience conflicting impact values for carbon insetting, hindering the uptake of BCR in industrial value chains. Our presentation will explore the differences and similarities of the current EPD and BCR standards and make suggestions that lead towards an integrated approach. With this, we hope to spark constructive discussions among the BCR and LCA/EPD-community about hurdles and opportunities in enabling market practises, harmonising CDR certification and in-value-chain accounting through EPD. Functional industry incentives for regenerative GHG management on global scales can only be achieved based on a consistent impact quantification scheme, established by collaborative cross-domain action.

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