This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Ben & Jerry's: Join Our Core & Scoop For Change competition.
Biochar is a product that is created from burning waste materials such as manure and wood in the absence of oxygen in a process called pyrolysis. The outcome is a charcoal substance but unlike regular charcoal biochar has been proven to enhance soil condition, crop yield and it sequesters carbon for up to 1,000 years making it carbon negative.
Social change is being created in a number of ways. Biochar can increase crop yield and soil condition, this will assist gardeners and farmers with their crop yield and production. This is beneficial as a selling point for the crops produced as well as allowing the gardener and famers to obtain maximum yield. Biochar is carbon negative and by using waste products as the raw material in addition to sequestering carbon it is beneficial for air quality and thus people’s life quality in addition to waste management. There is potential further down the line to look at carbon credit projects using biochar production. This would have social benefit to those in developing countries. Using biochar as a practical hands on fun teaching medium brings social value to children and their teachers and thus in to their homes. It teaches children about soil biology, the lifelong skills of crop growth, carbon sequestration and sustainability. This project would provide sustainable jobs in Ireland, a country that is suffering badly from recession.
Biochar is a simple, ancient, tested yet unutilised product. It has massive social, environmental and financial benefits for Ireland and abroad. Biochar is being produced in the United States (with the backing of Richard Branson) and in the UK. We need funding to bring this project off the ground, a project that can be financially, environmentally and socially viable in many ways. Please vote for us and our wonder product - Biochar!
The competition is only open to people between 18-34 years-old and resident in UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands. Does this apply to you
Country of residence of entrepreneur
Tell us about your personal background. Why are you passionate about this issue? Making an idea a reality takes innovation, dedication and strong leadership. Do you have the necessary entrepreneurial skills to realize your vision?
I am 31 years old and from Ireland. My academic background is an engineering degree and a sustainable development masters. In my professional life I have worked as a waste management engineer, an environmental education teacher and lecturer, a wind energy engineer and a suitability consultant. I am currently working on a number of projects including biochar that will results in sustainability and social enterprises. I am passionate about the environment and sustainability. I believe that by education, empowerment and providing people with useful and environmentally friendly products. The biochar-in-schools project holds all theses values, it is made from recycled materials, sequesters carbon, increases quality of soil and yield of crops and using this is a school setting is using hands on learning techniques for lifelong education and empowerment. For my first engineering role I set up Boltz! Engineering as I was working as a contractor, this in addition to studying a graduate diploma in ‘Management Practices’ and FETAC Level 5 ‘Start Your Own Green Business’ course I have the academic background for social enterprise. Last Christmas I set up a market stall called Green Poppy, I sold handmade ‘hug’ boxes that were used instead of cards and homemade bath and body scrubs. To add a twist to the social side of the business I gave the recipe of the product and asked people to use the batch they had, make a new batch and pass that on to a friend. On the education side I have written an environmental education workshop for primary school children, I am currently extending that to cover secondary school and community groups. I also co-wrote a book and puppetshow in conjunction with 5 other environmentalists, the puppet show and ebook will be downloadedable from our website which we will launch at Easter. The book aims to teach children about the We hope to continue the series for this children’s book series.
About Your Organization
Country where this project is creating social impact
Is your organization a
The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..
The Need: What problem are you trying to solve?
Growing vegetables and fruit have become much more popular in Ireland and for food security in the future it is important that it continues this way. It is vital that consumers have a high quality product to assist in growing their produce. This is an issue for the public in day-to-day gardening. The other issue is a global one in relation to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lending itself to climate change and extreme weather conditions. The excess carbon in the atmosphere is due to emissions from transport, power plants etc. one option is to cut down on the amount of carbon we emit and another is to find a way to sequester it. Lessons in practical skills are needed in Irish schools to engage students equip them with life long skills.
The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!
The solution to the issues above as stated is producing biochar and using it to teach children about food production. Biochar is a charcoal type material that is a soil enhancer. It is added to the soil to enhance microbes in the soil, enhance crop yield and quality. Another major issue mentioned above is climate change, one of the answers to cutting down on this is carbon sequestration. Biochar contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by locking carbon out of the natural carbon cycle for long periods (approx 1000 years), this makes it carbon negative. Biochar can be used in school gardens to teach children about food production, science protocols, soil geography, sustainable development and history (as biochar was first used by Pre-Columbian Amazonians). It provides them with academic as well as practical life long skills. The project is very scale-able for bringing biochar to the public market as well as biochar oven manufacturing and carbon credit trading.
The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities
The biochar will be produced on a farm in County Clare. A number of batches (using various feedstocks) have been produced in a homemade biochar oven; this biochar will be sent to the University Of Limerick to be tested for efficacy and safety. This is to ensure the product is safe for market. The Professor we are working with is on the International Biochar Initiative so is very knowledgeable and widely known in the area. In conjunction with Local Agenda 21 officers in Wicklow County Council we will initially work with two secondary schools, one based in Wicklow and one in Dublin. The schools already have school gardens; we will run tests comparing the soil and the crop yields from using and not using biochar. The protocols have been written up and the same protocol will be carried out in each school for comparison. We will also run tests on mixing of biochar with compost and fertilizer to observe any differences in the final product. It is hoped that in conjunction with the school we can bring this project to the Young Scientists Competition to encourage interest from the students. The project is very scale-able within the school curriculum, bringing biochar to market, manufacturing biochar ovens and carbon credit trading. The project has a number of aims - producing biochar which sequesters carbon, increases quality of the soil and quality of the crop, encourage non class based learning, and encourage active learning using practical methods. The project combines education and a useful environmental product.
The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?
There is no biochar on the market in Ireland at the moment. Premier Green Energy based in Thurles are planning on opening a biochar facility in Tullamore, their biochar and biochar oven is currently in the testing phase. They don't plan on selling the biochar they produce, they want to use the singas to produce electricity. Ella McSweeny reported on the Pat Kenny show about a farmer in Cork looking at manufacturing biochar but there is no information in relation to his project. The Carbolea Reseach Group in UL have been doing tests and carrying out research on biochar but are looking to work in conjunction with a SME to bring it to market. Gardening is being carried out in many schools but not using biochar. An Taisce's Green Flag programme encourages sustainable developmen with children.
Select the stage that best applies to your business
Operating for 1-5 years
This Entry is about (Issues)
What is the social impact you have had to date and how you measure it?
So far is that I have teamed with a grower in who has manufactured a biochar oven and a number of batches of biochar. He will test different feedstocks, observe final product, time of manufacture etc. His observations will be used in the altering of the feedstocks and oven design. RealEyes Sustainability Ltd. & myself have also teamed with the Michael Hayes in the Carbolea Research Group in the University of Limerick. Michael is on the executive board of the International Biochar Initiative and thus is very knowledgeable about biochar and its uses in Ireland in relation to crop growth, soil condition and carbon emissions. Batches of biochar have been made at a test site in County Clare and in conjunction with Wicklow County Council and a secondary school the biochar will be trialed.
What barriers might hinder the success of your business? How do you plan to overcome them?
Barriers include finding the best possible feed source for the biochar; this will be done by running a number of tests on different feed stocks. Ensuring the success of biochar will take time as it may take time for the soil and crops to reap the benefits or the biochar. We can experiment with growing under lights, in green houses etc to speed up the growing process but by running our own experiments and researching the extensive research already carried out in biochar this will help break down the barriers. Biochar is unknown in Ireland, this may be a barrier but it has a good reputation in the UK and USA to assist with marketing.
How does your model address financial, social, and environmental sustainability?
A successful project must be sustainable from a financial, social and environmental standpoint. Social: working with schools will encourage social behaviour in the children; it can help form a link between the school, teachers and experienced gardeners in the community. We hope to combine the data obtained from the two school garden projects for the Young Scientists competition, this will encourage social collaboration between two different schools. We also hope to run public trails of biochar to create a biochar community. Environmental: the product increases quality of the soil and yield of crops, this is beneficial for food production and biodiversity. The product sequesters carbon making it carbon negative which is vital in the battle against climate change.Financial: We have secured some funding for the project and are looking in to areas such a group funding. There won’t be financial payback from the schools but once the University based tests are proven we can also sell biochar, biochar mix and grow bags to raise profile and revenue. We are working with a biochar oven manufacturer to get the bets design for the biochar manufacturing unit. The project is scaleable to be able to use it for carbon credit trading. Using and understanding the product and it's social, environmental and financial benefits will encourage and empower those who use it. This assists with the ideal goal of sustainable development.
Awareness & learning
How do you see social entrepreneurship contributing to the improvement of developing countries?
Social entrepreneurship is very important to the sustainable development of developing countries. If a social enterprise is set up in a developing country it will create local led employment, it will allow those with jobs to assist those less well off in the community, this leads to empowerment and thus a more sustainable attitude and development within the country. Social entrepreneurship based in developing countries will allow people to understand they can help themselves. Social entrepreneurship can also be carried out in developed countries with the aim of the project, product, service or profits going to developing counties, this is also important and a contributing factor. Social enterprise can allow developing countries to avoid the mistakes so called developed counties have made in the past. Being social and environmentally minded in entrepreneurship is beneficial for the world in general.
What aspects of your stay in Uganda as part of the competition do you think you will find most challenging and rewarding?
Spending time in a different country and culture can be equally challenging and rewarding but always memorable. It can take a little time to get used to day to day living and differences in food, heat, living arrangements and being a minority. However I have spent time in Ghana so I can picture what life in Uganda will be like and the challenges will be exciting, humbling and life changing. New experiences no matter how hard are more rewarding then challenging. Meeting new people is always the biggest reward of travelling and bringing back photos and stories to family and friends will also allow them to experience Uganda and help break down any prejudices people have about African counties. See social enterprise on the ground in Uganda would be inspiring and staying with a local family would really allow myself be immersed in the culture, I believe the experience would be positively life changing.