Griffith University
Biochar: a sustainable solution for soil management, climate change mitigation, and pollutant remediation.

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Increasing greenhouse gases concentrations, primarily CO2, have raised worldwide interest in the potential of agricultural soils to be carbon sinks. Carbon (C) is crucial to soil vitality. Soil C sequestration is a process in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil carbon pool. Blocking pathway for the natural C cycle by converting biomass to biochar is suggested as a tool to tackle the emerging issues of climate change, curtail depleting fossil fuels via bio-oil and syngas production, and being an environment-friendly method. Biochar can hold C for thousands of years and plant nutrients retaining, makes it more stable and effective than other fertilizer. Biochar is used as soil amendments to enhance soil fertility, reduce nutrient leaching, enhance soil stability, and improve crop production. This research aims to harness the unique properties of biochar to help solve global challenges like climate change, soil degradation and pollution.

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

Global warming is one of the biggest challenges to sustainable development of human society and natural ecosystem. According to Paris Agreement and Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, the Australian Government has agreed to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2030 [1]. Sequestering soil C has the potential to help agriculture reduce its emissions profile (currently 12.7% of the Australian total) and provide emissions offsets to support net zero emissions targets by 2050 adopted by all Australian States and Territories. 

Improved farm management systems can substantially reduce net atmospheric GHG emissions by CO2 sequestering removed from the atmosphere by the plants as carbon in soil organic matter. Thus, a blocking pathway for the natural carbon cycle which relies on converting off-farm wastes to biochar is suggested as a part of an effort to fight global climate change. This would achieve a net CO2 removal by the sequestration of atmospheric CO2 via photosynthesis into a long-term stable reservoir. The strategies for using biochar facilitate zero-waste and promote the circular economy. The lack of oxygen and high heat in the pyrolysis process “lock” C in the biochar.  

Biochar is considered as a sustainable strategy for waste management such as agricultural/ animal wastes that causing environmental problems if not properly disposed. If organic wastes are left to decompose naturally, they release CO2, N2O, and CH4 to the atmosphere. In term of cost, using off-farm wastes is appealing as it avoids landfill and other disposal expenditures. Furthermore, compared to traditional or existing disposal methods, there will be a lower emission of CO2, CH4 and N2O than placement in soil, enhancing the net gain in carbon equivalents through avoided gas emissions with much higher global warming potential. Biochar helps to improve soil fertility, reduce nutrient leaching which is a major cause for pollution in water bodies, enhance soil stability, increase microbial activity, and improves crop production. 

Biochar could be integrated into traditional fertilization strategies to reduce the environmental impact of the process and increase the agronomical value of the organic amendments. Unlike compost, biochar is produced by the thermal decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment whereas composting is a natural biodegradation of organic substrates by the microbial community under aerobic conditions. Organic matter in compost degrades quickly and becomes mineralized so its beneficial effects are relatively short-lived unlike biochar which can be persist in soil for a long-term.  

Biochar as a carbon-rich porous material can be also used as an adsorbent agent due to its unique properties including high surface area, abundant surface functional groups and mineral compositions, which makes it be potential adsorbent to remove pollutants from soils or aqueous solutions. 

Findings of this study can provide insights into the biochar, particularly derived from sugarcane mulch, poultry manure, and grape pomace, potential application as technically simple and economically attractive method for promoting circular economy via enhancing soil carbon storage, climate change mitigation and pollutant removal. 


ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)

I am always passionate about the environment and the challenges relating to our environment, agriculture, food security, sustainability, and global change. I enjoy discovering new things and learning new skills. Being a researcher in science has allowed me to pursue this passion every day and face the challenges within. I was lucky in high school as my science, chemistry, and math teachers really encouraged me and showed interest in my education. However, to start a career in engineering was not an easy decision especially in a country such as Iraq where male-dominated the workplace and not supportive of or attractive to women and minorities in STEM. Feeling like you don't belong where you are or don't deserve being a part of a workplace involving Stem can be a huge hurdle to overcome for a woman.   

I believe that STEM is not just for men, there are many successful female role models in STEM who continue to affect women in the STEM workforce in a positive manner. I have learnt a little bit from many successful female role models whom I’ve had the opportunity to work with and know. I learnt the value and importance of education from my mother even though she never had the opportunity to complete high school and had always encouraged us to never waste an opportunity to learn. “We need to first educate in order to educate” is a quote which I stand with and believe should be put into action. If we are not educated on the importance of STEM in our life, we won’t be able to encourage our kids, especially girls to follow through with STEM. We need STEM to lean, to create, and to build a better future.  

Thus, I started my first degree in the university to get a bachelor's degree in civil engineering then continued to get my master’s degree in environmental engineering. After graduation, I joined the STEM workforce as an environmental engineer in the Ministry of science and Technology, Iraq. I love having a job where I can be creative, challenged, and adaptable, while doing something to positively impact someone’s life and mine.  

My career goal has always been to work in the science field, and I am grateful to have gotten the opportunity to study at Griffith University, Doctorate degree in Environmental Engineering. Whilst being a mother of three amazing children with a research career was a little bit challenging for me, it has given me a new drive to succeed. Long experiments, extensive literature work, and scientific networking are all challenging, not only for a mother but for everybody. My research project was awarded the 2017 Award in Environmental Engineering Poster competition at the Environmental Engineering and Built Environment at Griffith University. I always take time each day to remind myself of what I do know, acknowledge things I did right, and above all, being kind to myself as I figure things out.

ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

STEM is not new for me; I have engaged in different scenarios involving STEM for more than 20 years. Some of these said scenarios includes working as an environmental engineer at the ministry of science and technology, Iraq. Working as an environmental engineer was a little bit challenging for me as male-dominated the workplace and were not supportive of women and minorities in STEM. However, those challenges have always given me a drive to succeed. As a science researcher, I always show help and support for younger researcher including female researchers with their engineering and science projects. Currently, my academic career started at the Australian rivers institute at Griffith University. I am employed as a research fellow. Apart from my own research, I also managed the lab, supervised students, and managed the group’s outreach activities.  

I’ve gained many additional skills through volunteer work. Whilst working as a volunteer at Karawatha discovery Centre- Brisbane city council gave me a feeling to be a part of a community, I shared my talents by doing various science activities for the kids visiting the centre, learn new skills and create a better work-life balance. I found that volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore my interests and passions about the environment.  

From other side of my life, for being a parent, one of my biggest challenges is to plan lessons that inspire kids to stay actively involved and enjoyed the learning process. In general, children have a curiosity to explore new things thus we need to foster their curiosity through their journey by providing additional questions, explanations, and examples to help inspire deeper exploration. For example, one of the great activities that I did with my daughter at her primary school science competition was density tower to investigate the variation in density of different materials. Together we did the experiments, and she had the opportunity to share her experience in front of her colleagues. She became better at research and critical thinking, using problem-solving skills and applying knowledge in her new projects. 

The fact that involving of family, especially parents, in STEM learning experiences is invaluable in providing support for girls engaging in STEM experiences. Parents are role models and key influencers of a girl’s career pathway considerations. For example, when my daughter became a high school student and took on STEM in her first year, she told me that she personally disliked STEM, not because of what she was learning, but because of whose teaching it. She had always loved the thought and work of STEM, but the way her teacher has taught and presented STEM to her was very unenjoyable. I took action immediately and sat down with her and helped her understand it. Even when she didn’t understand anything her previous teacher has taught her, I still stuck through and helped complete the task with her while making the lesson enjoyable.