Postdoctoral Associate – Multifunctional Values of Urban Biochar Applications
A postdoctoral research position is available in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. The interdisciplinary research team lead by Associate Professor Sebastian Behrens is searching for an outstanding individual who will lead research, implementation, and outreach on a MnDrive-funded project focused on urban biochar applications. The project is co-lead by Dr. Brian Barry, Chemistry and Materials Science Program Leader at the Natural Resources Research Institute, Duluth, MN. Local project partners are James Doten, Carbon Sequestration Program Manager for the Minneapolis Health Department and Nicholas Vetsch, Environmental Engineer at Stantec Consulting Services Inc., and the Minnesota Composting Council (MNCC).
The increasing interest in biochar production in urban areas is motivated, beyond carbon dioxide removal, by the multiple applications that biochar can have for municipalities and the abundant availability of green-waste biomass for biochar production in large cities like Minneapolis. While traditionally viewed as a soil amendment for agriculture, the number of uses for biochar has been expanding over the past several years. Many of these uses are directly applicable to urban environments. Urban uses for biochar include tree planting, turf and soils quality management, compost additive, bioremediation, stormwater management, urban agriculture, green roofs, and construction materials (e.g. concrete and asphalt). While urban applications of biochar are expanding, the potential environmental impacts of these new uses have not yet been sufficiently assessed and quantified. The properties and environmental carbon footprint of biochar are significantly influenced by the type of feedstock biomass and the pyrolysis parameters. While this makes biochar a versatile material that can be produced to match a variety of end uses it also provides a significant challenge as a city’s waste biomass type and availability will change seasonally. This requires a secure control and assessment system for biochar production and analysis that defines quality and safety standards for different biochar applications. However, while standards for production and analysis of biochar can provide important guidelines for its safe application, they do not necessarily outline the range of optimal biochar characteristics for various urban uses. This project focuses on understanding which biochar characteristics are most important for different end uses and what the ranges are for those characteristics. The project aims to match Minneapolis feedstock availability with the range of production parameters of the city’s new pyrolysis plant so that the Minneapolis can produce high quality and safe biochars with the optimal material properties for its various urban application.
Research will include, but is not limited to, understanding mass and energy balances of pyrolysis bioenergy, biochar properties, system performance, and greenhouse gas emissions to provide information about opportunities to mitigate climate change, improve soil health, and reduce environmental pollution. Work will include gas, liquid and solid analyses using standard as well as advanced analytical equipment.
Competitive candidates will also possess the following attributes:
Outstanding quantitative analytical skills
Excellent written and oral communication skills
Experience and skills with both field and lab work
Creativity, independence, and the desire to learn new things
Experience with analytical equipment for gas, liquid and solid analyses
Interest and experience in addressing environmental issues, climate change mitigation, soil health, waste management and research bridging natural sciences and engineering are required
Skills in systems modeling, data analysis in R, grant and publication writing, are desirable
Strong interpersonal skills and ability to conduct an outreach program are needed
Position is initially for one year, and renewable for a second-year contingent upon performance, funding and available work.
Anticipated Division of Time:
Design, build and perform field and lab experiments for data collection related to local biochar production, characterization, and urban applications (60%)
Data analysis and authoring of manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals (20%)
Outreach and communication: Work with project partners, the Minnesota Biochar Initiative, practitioners, and local communities on education and implementation of biochar technologies (20%)
The successful candidate will receive training in professional and personal development, research collaboration, presentation and publication of results, outreach, and mentoring. There will be opportunities for development of additional research projects and proposal development related to the broader project goals.
The employment will be arranged by the College of Biological Science/MnDrive Environment at the University of Minnesota. The position includes a competitive salary and benefits including health insurance.
The ideal candidate has a doctoral degree in Environmental Engineering, Biogeochemistry, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering or other relevant field, with demonstrated experience in biochar-bioenergy systems, soil science, biogeochemistry, carbon sequestration, climate mitigation, life cycle assessment, environmental policy and/or sustainable solutions for urban carbon management.
The University of Minnesota, founded in the belief that all people are enriched by understanding, is dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth; to the sharing of this knowledge through education for a diverse community; and to the application of this knowledge to benefit the people of the state, the nation, and the world.