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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