Trimplants Wholesale Nursery has worked with Low Carbon Devon's
Dr Thomas Murphy to develop the functionality of Biochar, a compost supplement made from local waste materials, a product which enables increased carbon sequestration in the soil.
Trimplants Wholesale Garden Nursery, based in Combe Raleigh, Honiton, are wholesale growers of hardy nursery stock and young plants. They supply growers locally in Devon and throughout the UK. Having supplied plants for green walls, they were interested in developing this side of their business further. 
Trimplants were one of the only nurseries which were able to supply the size and type of plants for the Low Carbon Devon greenwall research being carried out by Dr Thomas Murphy. This limited market highlighted the potential opportunity for plant growers such as Trimplants to supply plants for living wall projects and develop an understanding of their optimisation, design and supply chain. 
What were the challenges?
  • Peat-based compost will be banned in the UK in 2024 requiring the development of new alternatives.
  • Trimplants wanted to understand the suitability of different plant species for green walls and of potentially growing native flora.
  • Trimplants wanted to reduce their impact on the local environment and also to develop low carbon innovations and products which might be more widely applicable to the horticultural sector. 
Dr Thomas Murphy, working alongside the team at Trimplants, developed and tested the Biochar product as a peat-free compost alternative, and the results have enabled Trimplants to market the sale of biochar towards green infrastructure providers who want to maximise the thermal performance and plant health benefits of their installations for achieving carbon net zero.
The product will also allow Trimplants to further lower their carbon emissions and improve their peat-free growing methods for producing healthy resilient plants. One of the ways the new product might achieve this is by regulating soil moisture, retaining more moisture in the soil and reducing the demand for water in the summer months. Biochar can sequester carbon for hundreds of years and also increase microbial networks in depleted soil, linking valuable nutrients to plant roots.   
What was the outcome?
  • Biochar is now being sold in local nurseries and community shops, allowing other growers in the region to reduce their reliance on peat-based products.
  • The hedge cuttings now used to make biochar at Trimplants, would traditionally have been burnt by local farmers on a bonfire. Not only has this meant a reduction in carbon output but the brash has been used to create a useful product. There is also far less CO2 released from using a retort and the pyrolysis process. Any methane is burnt off during the process in an enclosed burner.
  • A biochar awareness campaign sharing the research and various trial results has led to increased local interest in green walls. Local gardeners have bought starter packs and have started experimenting with biochar in their gardens and on allotments and therefore sequestering carbon. Many are reporting increases in yields which could be due to the increased microbial network and the moisture and nutrient retention properties that biochar provides.
  • Biochar is being incorporated into cuttings trays and repotted plants sold at Trimplants. So over time, biochar will be incorporated into each stage of the growing cycle. Plants leaving Trimplants will contain biochar around the root systems so will sequester carbon wherever they are planted.    
Carolyn Dare, Trimplants recommends working in an academic partnership with the University of Plymouth; 
“Low Carbon Devon’s support on this project has been invaluable. Having an academic partner and results from the green wall research have helped in marketing our biochar, supported our use of a waste local resource (hedge cuttings) and supported our mixing it into our plant production cycle across the nursery.  Evidence of moisture and nutrient retention in green walls has resulted in us saving water and feed in our propagation and production of plants in trays, whilst sequestering carbon for hundreds of years.  In early trials, it has also resulted in stronger root systems of our plants.”
What next?
As a result of the partnership with Low Carbon Devon, Trimplants acquired funding to buy two Dartmoor Dragon retorts to increase production of biochar.  
Trimplants have run workshops and presented to local farmers, soil specialists, gardening groups and climate emergency centres across the UK about how they're using biochar and its potential in sequestering carbon, reducing methane from rotting wood, enhancing microbial networks and soil regeneration.  
Trimplants recently brought together charcoal makers from across the South of England to share research and to build awareness of the potential of biochar as a valuable product. Many charcoal makers traditionally view it as a waste product. However influenced by the research undertaken at the University of Plymouth, the charcoal makers are now adapting their businesses and offering a new local product.  
Recent discussions have also taken place with local authorities and specialists dealing with polluted rivers and contaminated land. 
Recommendations have been made to local towns to include biochar in their town planting schemes, to ensure more resilient plants in hotter dryer climates.
Recently a local microforest charity invested in a large order of biochar and are planning on integrating it into their school planting scheme.
Dr Thomas Murphy has seen the benefits of industry/academic collaborations and says;  
“It has been a pleasure to work with Terry and Carolyn from Trimplants. They are both passionate about ensuring their business has a prosperous and low carbon future. Our Low Carbon Devon collaboration shows that industry–academic partnerships can support low carbon innovation, and deliver real change and opportunity for local communities. As a scientist and researcher, it has been highly rewarding to see our research collaboration have practical applications towards local enterprise and sustainability practice. What better legacy?”
The Low Carbon Devon project was a five-year European Regional Development Fund project held at the University of Plymouth supporting Devon businesses to transition to the low carbon economy closing in mid-2023.
The project served as a catalyst for low carbon economic growth in Devon via the Future Shift internship programme, a series of free events and by connecting enterprises with expertise within the University of Plymouth.
The project collaborated with over 130 innovative Devon enterprises who are developing sustainable practices and securing opportunities in the low carbon economy.
To find out more about the University of Plymouth's business services visit Enterprise Solutions
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