Johannes Lehmann

ACSF Faculty Fellow Johannes Lehmann (CSS) is an internationally recognized expert on biochar 

Village-scale Biofuels

March 11, 2013

Johannes Lehmann

ACSF Faculty Fellow Johannes Lehmann (CSS) is an internationally recognized expert on biochar, a charcoal-like substance that increases agricultural yields as a soil amendment, while limiting climate change by sequestering carbon. Biochar is a by-product of using slow and low heat to convert organic waste to energy—a process called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis also yields valuable gases and liquids that can be used as fuel.

Johannes LehmannJohannes Lehmann (CSS)

Lehmann organized an ACSF topical lunch in 2008 to discuss the environmental, economic, and energy potential of biochar. Out of this lunch grew a comprehensive project involving the entire biochar system, from generating transportation fuels to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving livelihoods in developing countries.

The village-scale biofuel project has flourished, attracting multiple external grants and partners and growing new research directions. A line of research launched with a 2008 AVF grant of $100,000 is now moving forward with support of nearly $8 million, including a $5 million gift from philanthropist Yossie Hollander to the Atkinson Center earmarked to support biomass and biochar research.

Lehmann and his colleagues Lars Angenent (BEE), Elizabeth Fisher (MAE), and David Lee (AEM) are making progress on developing an efficient village-scale pyrolysis facility, with research continuing in Kenya and at home in Ithaca. With promising results producing ethanol in the laboratory, team members recently started work on a pilot plant—Cornell’s new Pyrolysis Facility, located in Leland Laboratory—scheduled to open this summer.