Iowa State University, USA
Research focus: Biochar as a soil additive and tool for carbon sequestration
Bernardo del Campo is a biofuels ambassador. After rebuilding his 30 year old Mercedes 300SD to run on biodiesel and cooking oil, he spearheaded the use of biodiesel to fuel Iowa State University's bus system and is heavily involved in the promotion of biofuel technology among colleagues, community leaders and in the private sector. Today a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering, del Campo’s goal is to draw additional environmental benefits from the biofuel life-cycle.
Del Campo’s current research focuses on biochar, a high-carbon by-product from the conversion of biomass to biofuels through a process called pyrolysis. Biochar can be added to soil to improve water quality, increase crop yields and, most importantly, sequester carbon in the soil for centuries. “Biochar can improve soil properties with profound impacts on greenhouse gas emission while providing several other environmental benefits.” says del Campo. “This kind of carbon-negative technology means being able to produce biofuel with a net withdrawal of CO2 from the atmosphere.” Del Campo is currently conducting privately-funded research on fast pyrolysis biochars for carbon sequestration with the goal of marketing them for carbon credit and large-scale field trials.
Del Campo impressed the jury with his innovative computer-automated tool for monitoring biomass decomposition, which makes it possible to assess the storage and shelf life of agricultural biomasses. The jury particularly highlighted his current research on biochar recalcitrance, overall GHG emission, and the overall mitigation profile using this specially modified tool, which it described as a “fascinating approach” to extending the overall environmental benefits of biofuels.