Ithaka Institut

Student Participants

The participating students, coming from 16 countries, have already several years experience in biochar science. Please find following the description of their most prominent running biochar project.

Natalie Taupe
University of Limerick
I am undertaking a Ph.D. fellowship at the University of Limerick, under an EU FP7 Marie-Curie Initial Training Network, titled “ReUseWaste”. My Ph.D. focuses on developing thermal treatment technologies (pyrolysis, gasification and combustion) for low moisture manures.
Poultry litter is rich in inorganic nutrients and its low moisture content eliminates the requirement for pre-treatment making it a uniquely suitable feedstock. We are comparing the chemical and physical characteristics of poultry litter biochars produced via (i) slow pyrolysis and (ii) gasification, to evaluate their potential for recycling on farmland.
In addition textural and chemical properties of manure-derived biochars (from cattle, swine and poultry litter) will be determined via BET specific surface area and via SEM with EDS. Furthermore we will determine the effect of volatile-matter composition on seed germination. Analytical methods include biochar extraction and GC-MS, surface functionalities using FTIR and the aromatic character by 13C solid-state NMR spectroscopy.

Roman Huepi
Agroscope ART, Switzerland
My biochar research project is about greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural soils. We especially focus on the impact of biochar on nitrogen oxide emissions and the changes in the nitrogen cycle. After detecting significant effects in laboratory studies the actual goal is to verify the effects from biochar in the field, where we trace the nitrogen fertilizer with 15N label experiments. I work at Agroscope Reckenholz which is an agricultural research station from the Swiss government in Zurich. My PhD is affiliated to the professorship for sustainable agro ecosystems of Prof. Johan Six at ETH Zurich.

Marina Paneque
Department of Geoecology, Biogeochemistry and Environmental Microbiology, Instituto de Recursos Naturales y Agrobiología de Sevilla (IRNAS), Spain
I am biologist and after finishing my Master Thesis entitled “Characterisation of biochars from the COST action BRN ring trail and their impact on plant productivity and C-sequestration potential of a Mediterranean soil”, I will continue with my PhD work focusing on the use of biochars from sewage sludge as slow release P and N fertilizers.
My work relates physicochemical properties of biochars with its biochemical recalcitrance and its agronomic response. They are characterized by FTIR and NMR spectroscopy. Their recalcitrance is elucidated using respiration experiment. Pot experiments reveal their impact on plant heath and productivity. We identified marker compounds typical for biochars from a certain source and found that concentration but also quality of the amended biochars effect plant growth.

Carlos Hurtado
CSIC, Barcelona
My name is Carlos Hurtado and I am a PhD student at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA) in the Spanish National Council of Research (CSIC) at Barcelona (Spain). The main focus in our research is to evaluate the uptake of many organic micropollutants from reclaimed water to crops. We have observed that plants can uptake some of these organic pollutants; hence, we are looking for different strategies to reduce their bioavailability. Among them, biochar has many properties that are interesting for our experiments because it is known to have a great specific surface able to sorb some organic compounds. In conclusion, we are interested in evaluate the capacity of biochar to decrease the uptake of organic micropollutants by plants.

Tatiana F. Rittl
Droevendaalsesteg, Wageningen, 6700AA, Netherlands
Tatiana is an environmental manager with master in Soil and Nutrition Plant. She has expertise in chemical and physical soil organic matter (SOM) characterization and analytical methods for carbon quantification. Nowadays, she is a Ph.D. candidate in Wageningen University. About her Ph.D. topic: pyrogenic carbon (PyC) and its storage in soils have been suggested as one possible alternative for reducing of the atmospheric greenhouse gases concentration. However, the long term stability of PyC and its impacts on the native SOM decomposition need to be better understood. Furthermore, carbon sequestration through PyC is not only a technical issue, it is likely to have also social consequences. Her project will assess potential trade offs in carbon sequestration and link these data in a decision model that could affect policy makers and institutional discourses when scaling up local biochar projects.

Aline Peregrina Puga
Agronomic Institute of Campinas, Brazil
My name is Aline Peregrina Puga and I am Brazilian. I had my bachelor degree in Agronomy at Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar). I made my Masters in Agronomy (Soil Science) at Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho (UNESP/FCAV). Since 2011 I am a PhD candidate in Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (Agri-environmental Resource Management) at Agronomic Institute of Campinas (IAC). The title of my current project is Effects of biochar in the mitigation of toxicity of heavy metals in multi-contaminated soils. With this research our objectives are to evaluate: 1.The effect of biochar and lime application on the vertical mobility of Cd, Pb and Zn in a multicontaminated soil from an opencast mining area; 2.The effects of these metals on growth parameters, enzymes activities, structures and accumulation in two plant species and 3.The availability of Cd, Pb and Zn in contaminated soils using the DTPA and CaCl2 methods.

Nikolas Hagemann
PhD candidate at Molecular Microbial Ecology/Geomicrobiology Group at the University of Tübingen, Germany
My research is focused on the influence of biochar on the microbial nitrogen and carbon cycles and the impact on associated greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O). For this purpose I combine geochemical, microbiological, and molecular techniques
In my master thesis I have investigated the effect of both “fresh” and “aged” biochar on soil N2O emissions under varying conditions upon fertilization in a laboratory microcosm experiment. In my PhD I plan to study the impact of biochar on biomass degradation. Further I will also study the effect of biochar on soil nutrient leaching and the long-term stability of newly formed soil organic matter in field and controlled lab experiments.

Nicola Teuscherowa
Department of Crop Sciences and Agroforestry at Czech University of Life Sciences Prague.
In my thesis, which is a continuation of my MSc thesis, I will focus on the potential of the residue of local charcoal production for local agriculture improvement. The aim is (i) to determine the influence on soil properties, crop growth and yields as well as on nutrient availability and nutrient uptake, (ii) to clarify the economic feasibility of this material being used in agriculture, and (iii) to measure greenhouse gases and nutrient losses by leaching to calculate the changes in nitrogen and carbon cycle to be compared with the scenario where charcoal is used exclusively as a fuel. Research will take place in Amazon basin in Pucallpa, one of the charcoal producing centers of Peru.

Helis Rossner
Estonian University of Life Sciences, Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Department of Soil Sciences and Agrochemistry, Tartu
I am starting my second year doctoral studies at Estonian University of Life Sciences. My background is soil science and composting. Composting is well known technology to stabilize organic wastes into valuable resource. There are several unclear aspects of biochar use in organic waste stream for co-composting. We are interested in studying the effect of biochar on composting and compost properties to enhance the best performance of biochar in agricultural systems. More specifically we are looking answers to questions (i) which biochar (produced from local feed-stocks) are most suitable for co-composting to decrease the losses during composting and to perform the best compost quality in terms of plant growth, and (ii) how biochar-compost surface properties (functional groups) change compared to un-composted biochar and biochar directly applied to soil?

Alfred Obia
Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Biochar induced changes in soil properties have been reported responsible for its benefits particularly increased crop yields and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The present study focuses on biochar effects on soil physical characteristics such as soil aggregation, water flow characteristics and water retention and mechanisms for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The study will also quantify rate of biochar migration in the soil profile as some studies have shown that biochar is mobile in the soil.
The study will be achieved through both field and lab experiments carried out in acid tropical soil context. Preliminary results show that:
  • Biochar induced pH increases could be one of the main mechanisms for N2O emission suppression.
  • Biochar increases soil aggregate stability.

Veronika Hansen
Technical University of Denmark
I am a PhD student at the Institute of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Technical University of Denmark. I have a Master degree in Agronomy at Copenhagen University in Denmark.
Title of my PhD project is Combined soil carbon sequestration and crop nutrient supply using thermal conversion technology residuals. The aim of the project is to study the effect of soil application of ashes from thermal gasification on the potential soil carbon sequestration as well as on soil nutrient dynamics, microbial activity and crop growth. The hypothesis is that the ash fraction resulting from gasification can be developed into an attractive soil amendment increasing soil carbon sequestration to a higher degree than traditional residual soil incorporation. I will test this through incubation studies, pot experiments and field trials. The chemical structure and stability will also be investigated using 13C NMR, SEM and stable isotopes.
Floriana Bedussi
Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences – Production, Land, Agroenergy
University of Milan
My PhD project is concerned on the use of biochar in soilless systems.
The aims of my researches are: a) to explore the use of biochar as a potting mix component; b) to perform a risk study using plant bioassays and chemical analysis.
Up to now I evaluated the role of particle size on the behavior of a biochar from pine wood when used as a component of growing media. The results of this study highlight that biochar acts well as a liming material in neutralizing peat acidity inducing at the same time positive effects on plant growth.
In a second experiment I followed the changes in solution composition (extracted with Rhyzon samplers) and in pH due to the addition of three biochar (a pine wood biochar produced from pyrolysis, a pine wood biochar and a poplar biochar produced from gasification) to peat in pots whit and without basil plants.

Chiara Pituello
Doctoral School of Crop Sciences – Department of Agronomy Food Natural resources Environment - University of Padua
The research project focuses especially on producing biochar from biomasses of difficult disposal and establish a sustainable production method which leads to a safe, qualitatively high and agronomically viable product that could meet the aim of both safely treat these biomasses and valorize them.
The biochars obtained will be chemically and physically analyzed to evaluate the effect of pyrolysis temperature and heating rate on biochar structure, porosity and surface chemistry. In particular, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) will be used along with 3-D X-ray microtomography. The biochars will then be used for field experiments to explore their effects on soil physical, chemical and biological parameters. The final phase will consist in the definition of the feedstock and production variables needed to optimize the production process and to obtain the biochar with the best agronomical characteristics.

Frédéric Rees,
Laboratoire Sols et Environnement, Université de Lorraine/INRA, Nancy, France
My research project aims to evaluate the actual influence of biochar on the mobility of potentially toxic elements (e.g. heavy metals such as Cd, Pb, Zn, Cu and Ni) in soil-plant systems, to identify the processes behind such effects and to enable the long-term effects of biochar in contaminated soils. This encompasses various experimental approaches such as batch sorption experiments, soil column leaching, microscopic analyses of biochar, and plant growth experiments in rhizoboxes, pots, lysimeters or field trials.

Anna Wawra
Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), Tulln, Austria
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna, Austria
„Immobilisation of heavy metals in soil as blessing or curse for hydrocarbon degradation“
As part of the ISOMON (Isotope Monitoring) project, this 3 year PhD- study aims to identify the influence of in-situ heavy metal sanitation on biological decomposition behaviour of organic pollutants, and to find chemical, physical and biological measures in order to accelerate the decomposition of these organic contaminants.
Microbial decomposition of organic pollutants will be measured via analysis of the carbon isotopes (12C/13C) ratio using compound specific isotope analysis (CSIA), while the influence of heavy metals on microbial communities will be measured using 13C PLFA analysis. Biochar will be one of the soil additives used as a heavy metal immobilizer in the greenhouse pot experiment and field trial.

Tomi Holstila
Turku University of Applied Sciences, Finland
I'm currently working on my final thesis entitled “Business opportunities by local recycling with slow pyrolysis”. I am also working as a trainee at MTT Agrifood Research Institute where I am assisting in several biochar research projects.
The aim of my thesis is to find out which regional biomasses and waste fractions could be pyrolysed in an economically feasible way and what uses could be found locally for the resulting biochar, pyrolysis liquids and syngas. At MTT our research aims to provide evidence of the effects of biochar on plant yields and the environmental benefits of its use. Another project is focused on slow pyrolysis experiments of different waste materials, such as sewage sludge and horse manure, in order to find out how to enhance nutrient recycling with the use of biochar as an organic fertilizer.

Wolfram Buss
University of Edinburgh, UK Biochar Research Centre (UKBRC)
Contaminant issues in production and application of biochar from both virgin and non-virgin feedstock. My research is about finding out which contaminants are likely to be present in different type of biochars, which factors during production effect their presence/ concentration and how safe production can be ensured by using appropriate feedstock and process conditions. Furthermore, assessment of fate of contaminants from biochar in soil is an important part of my research.
I have a background in biology (bachelor) and environmental/agricultural sciences (masters). Currently, my biochar research project consists of biochar production, toxicity screening (seed germination tests), analysis of composition of organics and inorganics and desorption behaviour of contaminants from biochar in soil (and further fate).

Amit Kumar Jaiswal
Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Hebrew University, Israel
I am Amit Kumar Jaiswal from Nepal and doing PhD (continuing my master thesis research project) under supervision of Prof. Yigal Elad, Dr. Omer Frenkel, and Dr. Ellen R. Graber at The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Hebrew University, Israel and Agricultural Research Organization, Israel. We expected that biochar characteristics can affect the disease suppression capability, as there is a profound variability in the physical and chemical properties of biochar depending on the initial feedstock and production parameters. In my M.Sc. research, I checked the influence of feedstock types, pyrolysis temperature, and concentration on the suppression of Rhizoctonia solani in cucumber and bean and few possible modes of action. In ongoing PhD research, I am again checking the effect of interaction of feedstock, pyrolysis temperature and concentration on suppression of soilborne disease but in different pathosystem. I am also going to explore possible mechanisms of biochar in suppression of soilborne disease such as induction of systemic resistance responses, alternation of microbial populations, and adsorption of extracellular enzymes.

Aoife Brennan
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
I am based at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. My PhD research focuses on the role of biochar in remediating multi-contaminated soils, particularly looking at the use biochar to re-establish plant growth in degraded systems, whether through enhancing phytostabilisation or supporting biomass crop growth. My experiments monitor various plant health parameters such as chlorophyll, biomass yields, plant enzyme activity and root growth parameters. Specific contaminants of interest are the 16 EPA PAHs, arsenic, copper, manganese and zinc. I am also interested in how biochar affects bioavailability of the selected contaminants and as a result, how exposure pathways are affected by biochar amendment, for example, leaching of contaminants to groundwater; porewater concentrations; plant uptake and so on.