UNSW School of Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineering
Integration of Solar Photovoltaic, Regenerative Agriculture and Carbon Dioxide/Moisture Draw-down
Stephen Joseph - UNSW visiting professor

Stephen Joseph, at UNSW SPREE, 17 October 2023

Stephen Joseph (57Min)

UNSW visiting professor

Stephen Joseph speaks at UNSW SPREE


The expansion of large-scale photovoltaic (PV) power generation is essential to global efforts to mitigate climate change. Solar energy has one of the lowest carbon footprints. On a life-cycle basis, concentrated solar emits 38, PV roof solar emits 41, and PV utility solar energy emits 48 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity produced. Solar helps combat climate change and has various environmental benefits. Conversion of biomass to energy and biochar is a carbon negative technology under many scenarios. Applying to land or feeding to animals builds soil carbon, increases crop yields, soil health and water holding capacity and can help all plants resist environmental stresses.

A constraint to such PV development is its extensive space requirements, complicated by increasing competition for land driven by population growth and rising food demand. A number of studies have indicated that integrate crop production, animal grazing and PV power generation, offer a potential solution to the land economy problem. To date the concept on adding biochar into this system both to help draw down CO2 and water and ensure PV farms are carbon negative has not been demonstrated. In my presentation I will give an overview of the research that has been undertaken to show that biochar builds soil carbon and other nutrients, water holding capacity and can be integrated with animal husbandry. I will present the most recent work undertaken in Australia that indicates biochar can be integrated with regenerative agriculture I will then present a biochar/agrivoltaics system that can be trialled in a PV farm to determine the economic and environmental costs and benefits of this integration and the net reduction in carbon footprint of the PV farm.

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Brief Bio

Dr Stephen Joseph holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Metallurgical Engineering, a doctorate in Architecture and Applied Anthropology at UNSW. He is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Energy, was a Chartered Engineer with the UK Institute of Energy and has been a senior adviser to both commercial, government and non government organisations, in renewable energy, waste management and sustainable agriculture and forestry. He has been the managing director of a renewable energy company for 23 years and a director of other renewable energy and biochar companies. He was the executive chairman of a biochar based fertiliser company founded by a VC company based in Silicon Valley for 3 years. He has been award an Order of Australia (AM) for his work in renewable energy and biochar. He is now a visiting professor at the University of NSW, Nanjing Agricultural University, New England University, Griffith University, Deakin, Wollongong University and a director Australian new Zealand Biochar Industry Group.

Dr Joseph has extensive experience world wide in all forms of renewable energy. He and his colleagues have developed processes and technologies that convert biomass into energy and value added products. These include including biodiesel, oil from algae, biomass combustion, pyrolysis and gasification plant, biochar, plastic wood composite, microhydro, wind and solar energy and additives for high strength concretes. He has also developed combustion devices to burn very dilute volatile gases from coal mines

He has also been involved in multi-country market research into areas related to biochar, waste recycling and renewable energy. He has written over 150 books and peer reviewed articles and lectured and trained other engineers and scientists throughout the world. He was the founding vice chairman of the International Biochar Initiative and co-editor with Dr Johannes Lehmann of the first major publication on biochar. He has co-authored articles that have appeared in Nature, International Materials Reviews and Environmental Science and Technology.

High Impact Factor Peer Reviewed Journal Papers

1. Weng Z., Van Zwieten L., .. Joseph S., Macdonald L. M., et al. (2022) Microspectroscopic visualization of how biochar lifts the soil organic carbon ceiling, Nature Comms.
2. Weng Z., Van Zwieten L., Singh B. P., Tavakkoli E., Joseph S., Macdonald L. M., Rose, M., rose T. j,. Kimber S. , Morris S., Cozzolino D., Araujo J. R., Archanjo B. and Cowie A., (2017) Biochar builds soil carbon over a decade by stabilising rhizodeposits; Nature Climate Change; 7, (5) 371-376
3. Hagemann N., Joseph S., Schmidt H.P., Kammann C. I.,et al. (2017) Organic coating on biochar explains its nutrient retention and stimulation of soil fertility. Nature Communications 18, 1089
4. N. Bolan, S. A. Hoang, J. Beiyuan, S. Gupta, Hou D. A. Karakoti, Joseph S. et al., Sungyup Jung, Ki-Hyun Kim, M.B. Kirkham, Harn Wei Kua, Manish Kumar, Eilhann E. (2021) Multifunctional applications of biochar beyond carbon storage, International Materials Reviews, DOI: 10.1080/09506608.2021.1922047
5. Ye J., Joseph S., Ji M., Nielsen S., Joseph S., Mitchell D. R. G., Donne S., Wang J., Horvat J., Munroe P., Thomas T. (2016) Chemolithotrophic processes in the bacterial communities on the surface of mineral enriched biochars, ISME journal, 1, 1-15