Recent greenhouse gas emission legislation to mitigate the effects of the release of CO2 into the environment has led to a series of scientific breakthroughs and process changes aimed at reducing these emissions. On the one hand, reduction in greenhouse emissions from industries has been achieved through more efficient processes, cold processing and better insulation to reduce energy requirements. On the other hand, techniques to produce lower carbon footprint energy sources from waste have seen the rise of Biofuels as a fuel source, and it is in this group that Biochar is one of the more recent developments to emerge.
Biochar is the product of the pyrolysis of biomass, created in the absence of oxygen. It is characterised by both its high carbon content and its high stability in the environment. It can be used as a soil conditioner, to retain moisture, and it offers a natural source of nutrients which, due to its chemical stability, are only slowly released into the soil, acting as an ideal biodynamic fertiliser in place of conventional petro-chemical sourced alternatives.
Following pyrolysis, the waste material is lighter, more homogenous, more chemically stable, and resilient to leaching. As a result, this process could provide a cheaper and easier route for disposal of fellmongery and tannery wastes. A survey conducted by LASRA® (Foster, 2008) showed that almost 40% of waste produced by the NZ leather industry was land filled. This equates to approximately 21,000 tonnes of waste that may possibly be processed cheaply to leave a safer and more useful product.
The possibility of adapting this Biochar technology to benefit the NZ leather industry is currently being explored at LASRA through a series of trials.