Functional Biocarbon Materials

Program Overview

Carbon is an essential element in nature. Functional biocarbon materials are developed to utilize waste biomass resources as high value carbon-based product for a variety of applications. For example, biochar is a stable, carbon-dense material that can sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide for millenia while providing benefits to soil, water, and plants. Other materials can also be developed, such as sorbents for water and air purification, composite fillers, and battery components.

NRRI leads an interdisciplinary program in pyrolytic technologies to produce functional biochar materials through substantial investments in biomass thermal processing equipment at the bench and pilot scales. This is supported by unique capabilities in materials characterization and chemical modifications.

Collaborations with external partners include:

  • Urban, agriculture and forest soil enhancement
  • Water treatment
  • Landfill remediation

NRRI is also pursuing new opportunities in metallurgy, energy, and infrastructure.

NRRI R&D programs have produced these materials from wood and agricultural residuals over the past ten years with pilot facilities designed to treat biomass for energy applications. Further strategic investments in equipment and facilities allow us to produce more technically challenging materials that require stringent processing conditions, and focus on the stepwise scale-up from the laboratory to the pilot scale.

    Program Goals

    1. To establish a diverse and sustainable biochar industry for Minnesota.
    2. To develop co-production of bioenergy with biochar.
    3. To assist partners with biochar demonstrations aimed at encouraging carbon sequestration, soil improvement, water treatment, and sustainable management of forest and urban trees.
    4. To work with external partners to establish biochar specifications for biochar used in different applications.

    Unique Strengths, Expertise and Capabilities

    • Biochar properties analysis 
    • Process development and scale-up

    Projects, Funding

    • Biochar for Forest Health (LCCMR Forest & Bioeconomy)
    • USFS Wood Innovations Grant 


    NRRI statewide partnerships include

    • City of Minneapolis
    • Cloquet Forestry Center 
    • MN Forest Resources Council
    • University of MN/Extension
    • MN Forestry Industry
    • MN Mining Industry
    • MN Power


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    Biochar Information

    NRRI Biochar research solutions include:

    1. Resource procurement to material properties
    2. Custom biochar product development
    3. Applications in soil health, water remediation, materials development & energy

    Biochar Impacts for Minnesota - a component of high-value products

    • Carbon sequestration
    • Agricultural and forest soil health
    • Water treatment: excessive nutrients and other pollutants
    • Forest fire fuel reduction
    • New markets for residual forest biomass (materials, energy)
    • New jobs for the Minnesota forest industry and beyond

    Biochar Primary Sources

    • Forest/Mill Residuals
    • Low value species
    • White-wood pellets
    • Pest-killed Trees

    Biochar Secondary Sources

    • Agricultural residues
    • Water treatment biosolids
    • Manure management

    Beneficial Attributes

    • Stable carbon
    • Absorption
    • Water retention
    • Microbial habitat
    • Soil structure


    Eric Singsaas headshot
    Materials and Bioeconomy Research Group Leader
    Brian Barry headshot
    Chemistry and Materials Science Program Leader - Materials and Bioeconomy
    Cally Hunt headshot
    Biomass Process Engineer
    Headshot of Alex Kacharov
    Senior Research Scientist, Organic Chemistry
    Oksana Kolomitsyna headshot
    Senior Research Scientist, Organic Chemistry
    head and shoulder picture of man
    Research Associate
    Head and shoulders photo of a man
    Research Staff Engineer, Biomass Specialist

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    Job Title: Chemistry Laboratory Coordinator; Researcher 4

    Job ID: 358149

    Location: Duluth

    Job Family: Research-Researchers

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