Feature Story | 13-Sep-2023

Towards a sustainable biochar market in Korea

Highlights from the special meeting with the Korean government led by Professor Yong Sik Ok and Professor Jay Hyuk Rhee

Cactus Communications

Korea recently witnessed a significant meeting aimed at fostering a strong and sustainable biochar market. The unique meeting involved the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), featuring an esteemed assembly of international university experts and Corporations.

Deputy Minister Mr. Beom Su Park spoke about how MAFRA identifies biochar as an ideal technology for achieving carbon neutrality in Korea. Under the government action plan, MAFRA has been conducting research in collaboration with research institutes and industries concerning the sustainable biochar market, especially in converting livestock manure into biochar. MAFRA also implements finance and policy-based actions to create infrastructure for a sustainable livestock manure-based biochar market. MAFRA plans to provide subsidies for facility installation, livestock manure treatment, and voluntary greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction projects (10 USD per 1 ton of GHG). The amendment of the Livestock Manure Act to define and set standards for biochar is also in the pipeline.

Biochar is crucial in the carbon removal portfolio of several big companies. Thus, even during the meeting, professionals shared their perspectives on best practices for good quality biochar and future actions towards its commercialization led by Prof. Yong Sik Ok, the Chair and the Program Director of the APRU SWM. APRU SWM is a pioneering endeavor devoted to advancing sustainable waste management practices. It achieves this through synergistic research endeavors, interdisciplinary partnerships, and the dissemination of knowledge. APRU SWM fosters collaboration between academia, industry, and government to tackle urgent waste challenges. APRU SWM also drives positive change and sustainable growth through a holistic approach and strong leadership in Asia-Pacific and worldwide.

The distinguished participants of the meeting included Prof. Scott Chang from the University of Alberta, Canada; Prof. Ondrej Masek from the University of Edinburgh, UK; Prof. Stephen Joseph from the University of New South Wales, Australia; Prof. Lukas Van Zwieten from New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Australia; Prof. Daniel Alessi from the University of Alberta, Canada; Prof. Shinjiro Sato from Soka University, Japan; and Dr. Janelle Jung from Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. This event also saw active involvement from key representatives of Korean corporations, including CJ CheilJedang, Shinsegae Food, Nongwoo Bio, Wonjin Group, and Platform Partners.

The proceedings of the meeting were overseen by Prof. Yong Sik Ok, a distinguished Highly Cited Researcher and full professor at Korea University, serving as the chair and program director of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities Sustainable Waste Management Program (APRU SWM) concurrently as the president of the International Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Association (IESGA). Accompanying him was Prof. Jay Hyuk Rhee, director of the Korea University ESG Research Institute and also the president of IESGA.

Nonetheless, Dr. Kevin Kung, the co-founder of the Canada-based start-up company Takachar and a prize winner from the XPrize Foundation and Musk Foundation, highlighted the importance of the size of the biochar production plant. According to Prof. Rhee, an expert in the field of Business Administration, integrating ESG principles with business strategies through biochar technology creates a potent synergy for sustainability.

The meeting highlighted how businesses adopting biochar showcase environmental responsibility by enhancing environmental health and carbon capture. Such an approach fosters social well-being through reduced ecological impact while adhering to governance standards. Biochar integration cultivates a holistic ESG-driven path, benefiting both the environment and communities. Prof. Daniel Alessi from the University of Alberta, Canada, appreciated Korea’s efforts regarding biochar; he noted, “Korea is the first nation to develop a national plan for converting animal manure into biochar and creating a commercial biochar market.”

Many experts also discussed the need for exploring other possible environmental applications of biochar besides using it in soils as an organic amendment. Amasha Withana, the secretary of the APRU SWM program at the meeting, said, “The collaboration between industries and academic institutes and receiving financial support from the government is mandatory to create a sustainable biochar market.”

Finally, the meeting highlighted that developing biochar standards will require multistakeholder participation from the government, private industries, academic institutes, biochar producers, raw material suppliers, and the primary consumers of biochar. To this end, MAFRA emphasized that they will collaborate with international governments, academic institutions, and industries to produce scientific research on biochar applications, develop breakthrough technologies for biochar production with minimum environmental damage, and receive continuous feedback on new and ongoing biochar projects for creating a sustainable biochar market across Korea.

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