The project activity entails installation and operation of a new biochar production facility(ies) where the project proponent must 1) source waste biomass, 2) produce biochar, and 3) ensure the biochar is utilized in eligible soil or non-soil applications.
The start date of the project is defined as the first instance of biochar production in a new (greenfield) facility.
Feedstock must be purely biogenic waste biomass that would otherwise have been left to decay or combusted for purposes other than energy production in the baseline scenario.
Yes, biosolids are allowed as described in Table 3 of the methodology. However, note that all feedstocks must comply with relevant thresholds for heavy metals and other contaminants under relevant standards or guidelines (e.g., IBI or EBC) according to the biochar end-use application.
Purpose-grown feedstocks are not allowed under the current methodology. Utilizing productive land areas to produce biomass aimed for biochar production could potentially compete with other sustainable development goals, such as food security, and lead to unintended land use change. While it is possible to demonstrate that these negative impacts are not met, it adds additional reporting and monitoring burden to projects. Therefore, only waste biomass is eligible under this current version. Verra intends to consider allowing purpose-grown feedstocks in a subsequent version of the methodology that appropriately addresses sustainability and other concerns.
A range of thermochemical conversion processes that produce biochar are allowed including pyrolysis, gasification, and biomass boilers. However, torrefaction and hydrothermal carbonization are explicitly excluded.
Production facilities are classified into low-technology and high-technology facilities. High technology facilities must (a) recover or combust the greenhouse gasses produced during pyrolysis; (b) use at least 70 percent of the heat energy produced by pyrolysis (taking into consideration heat transfer inefficiencies); (c) have pollution controls, such as a thermal oxidizer or other emissions controls, that meet local, national, or international emission thresholds; and (d) measure and report production temperature. If these criteria are not met, the facility is classified as low technology.
The project proponent determines how waste heat utilization is demonstrated. Eligible determination will include schematic descriptions (e.g., through technical details) and quantification, i.e., by estimating potential flows of heat energy embodied in the biomass and biochar as well as the heat energy within the production system.
Biochar End Uses
The methodology can be used anywhere in the world, except in wetlands.
Biochar is eligible to be used as a soil amendment on land other than wetlands, and in non-soil applications including, but not limited to, cement, asphalt, and any other applications where long-term storage of the biochar is possible. Only biochar produced in high- technology production facilities is eligible to be used in non-soil applications.
As stipulated in the methodology, the designated end use for soil application is in the field (or other land area) where the carbon sink is created. Therefore, an intermediate mixing/blending step is not considered the final end use. In such cases, the application location for the final soil product containing the biochar must be indicated by the project proponents.
Additionality is demonstrated via a standardized activity penetration rate method which stipulates that the total mass of waste biomass converted to biochar amounts to 5% or less of the total mass of waste biomass available worldwide.
Per VCS requirements outlined in the Methodology Approval Process v4.0, an interim reassessment of the penetration rate will be undertaken within three years of the approval and publication of the current version of the methodology.
GHG Accounting and Monitoring
The baseline scenario is the continuation of pre-project waste handling and disposal activities where the waste biomass would either be left to decay or be combusted for purposes other than energy.
The methodology employs a comprehensive monitoring and accounting framework that captures the GHG impacts in the three important stages of a biochar value chain: sourcing, production, and application (i.e., the use of biochar in soil or non-soil applications). At the sourcing stage, emissions are conservatively set to zero since feedstocks are restricted to waste biomass that would otherwise have been left to decay or combusted. Production stage emissions that are quantified include pre-treatment of biomass, conversion of biomass, and auxiliary energy use. Stable carbon content of biochar over a 100-year period is derived from the 2019 Refinement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories with the option to use project-specific emission factors from peer-reviewed literature. Application stage emissions include emissions from processing biochar and utilization. Transportation emissions must be accounted for if exceeding 200km according to procedures in the CDM Tool 12.
Emissions in the baseline scenario (e.g., from aerobic/anaerobic decomposition or combustion) are produced from the organic carbon in the waste biomass. In the project scenario, the waste biomass carbon is converted into stable carbon in the biochar material. Hence, avoided baseline emissions are conservatively excluded due to the risk of double-counting carbon, i.e., in emissions from baseline decomposition/combustion and in carbon sinks in the biochar material in the project scenario.
A range of parameters related to biomass sourcing, production, and end use are required, as detailed in Section 9 of the methodology.
End-use monitoring and verification is required to demonstrate approved soil or non-soil uses. In practice this means that projects have to demonstrate where the biochar was applied into soils or which product (e.g., cement, building materials) it was mixed into. Once these approved end uses occur, it is virtually impossible to extract the biochar and burn it for energy. It is plausible that a warehouse fire could result in biochar combustion but since an approved end use could not yet be demonstrated, it would be impossible to achieve verification. Furthermore, risk of unintentional combustion (e.g., forest fire, grass fire) is mitigated by requiring that biochar is incorporated to a minimum 10-cm soil depth where risk of combustion of organic material is greatly diminished, and by requiring that biochar is mixed with other less flammable materials like clay or other minerals if it is surface-applied.
The VCS Program does allow for projects that combine one or more approved VCS methodologies. However, project proponents must always demonstrate that there is no double counting of GHG benefits. For soil end use, it is not allowed to combine this biochar methodology with another methodology that quantifies the soil organic carbon (SOC) pool such as VM0042. Because it would be difficult to differentiate biochar carbon from other forms of soil carbon when quantifying SOC stock changes. Future revisions to this methodology may consider ways to quantify negative priming effects that biochar may have on SOC stocks.
Under the VCS Program, any project proponent entity can submit a project. This could include biochar producers or users or any other entity along the biochar value chain.
The methodology ensures no double counting through rigorous reporting and monitoring requirements from feedstock sourcing to biochar production through to end use in approved soil or non-soil applications.