Can biochar help decarbonisation of airports?

February 2023

TULIPS investigates biochar sequestration at Torino Airport SAGAT

Airports usually have large green areas. Those areas could potentially be used to capture CO2 using biochar, a charcoal-like substance. Since biochar captures CO2 in the soil for a long term, it can thus contribute to decarbonisation of airports. To investigate this, the TULIPS programme started a biochar trial at Torino Airport SAGAT (Società Azionaria Gestione Aeroporto Torino) in October 2022.

What is biochar?

Biochar is a carbon-rich, charcoal-like product created by pyrolysis: the thermal breakdown of biomass in the absence of oxygen. It can be made from organic waste and residues, in this case poplar woodchips. Biochar can contribute in the fight against climate change. It captures CO2 in the soil for the long term. CO2 that was stored in organic material such as woodchips can be retained much longer in the form of biochar. Therefore biochar is not only CO2 neutral but even CO2 negative.

Example of biochar produced from woody biomass (poplar chips)

What does the biochar demonstration at Torino Airport look like?

In October 2022, Torino Airport ploughed a piece of land on landside with biochar, as part of the TULIPS programme. After plowing, ryegrass was sown. A second piece of land has not been incorporated with biochar, and will be used for comparison. In October we took samples of soil from both plots, before incorporation. We will compare these with soil samples that we will take in 2023. Subsequently we will measure the increase of the organic carbon (Corg) sequestration in soil after the incorporation of biochar, compared to the business-as-usual management practices. We will also evaluate the beneficial effect of biochar on yield increase of the species cultivated on airport green areas.

Soil sampling operations for the biochar demonstration

How can this help airports?

Since green areas represent a large portion of the total surface in any given airport, the biochar solution provides high potential for replicability to other airports. Its incorporation into the soil is considered an agricultural practice that can increase the sustainability and contribute to decarbonise airports.

Which TULIPS partners are involved?

The biochar demonstration is carried out by Torino Airport SAGAT in close collaboration with the Operational Technical Management of SAGAT, experts from Polytechnic of Turin (POLITO) and agronomists from the Renewable Energy Consortium for Research and Demonstration (RE-CORD) based in Florence.

More biochar demonstrations at other TULIPS airports

A second biochar demonstration is carried out at Larnaca Airport at Cyprus. At Amsterdam Airport Schiphol a trial is planned for 2023 as well. By doing the test at different TULIPS airports, we can assess whether biochar is widely applicable and scalable.