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Biochar, is it good?

 
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[b]BioChar[/b
I'm new on here so i figured i'd throw a topic up that i haven't found except under other topics. BioChar, is it good? I've always been trying more sustainable ways to grow before i heard the phrase "permaculture" Now i've seen about every video on it i can find on you tube and other dvds. I've introduced it to 2 of my friends and they are wanting to get large plot and split 3 ways between us to go big, money being the issue though. Anyway, I've been looking at all the ways to become sustainable using new technology since it's already there and would be useful to have if some sort of depression or collapse happens. I ran across biochar and how it's being pushed to farmers to spread on their fields to build organics back up etc. I think biochar has its place and isn't something i would set as a goal but a byproduct. I am fascinated by all the various ways to fuel engines and i really like the gasifiers. I'm thinking if you have a wooded area that you can use the gasifier to split firewood to burn for heat or use if for a generator if need and you decide to go off grid. So you get free fuel plus the char to enrich soil. I see a few people making their own charcoal briquettes too. I thought about that and instead of making just charcoal briquettes you could soak them in compost tea and use it almost as a slow release fertilizer. I do not agree with any of this if you are taking down trees at a rate they can't replenish. I also do not agree with it on a massive commercial scale. Thats one worry i have about mono-croppers jumping on biochar bandwagon. You will see forests planted of the fastest growing trees before long to keep a biochar supply. It is helping their soil some but robbing it elsewhere. I think it should be used where it is also an alternative fuel source only if needed or even better stick to hugelkulture. I understand though if you buy land that is a spent cornfield with no trees or anything on it. That is the land for sale around me and what i may have to deal with. I love to start from a clean slate but it will take awhile to collect resources to enrich the land again. To get a piece of land stuck between a highway and interstate with a little stream is around 350,000 for 40 acres. That may be cheap compared to the rest of the world though. Farmland is being sold left and right around here in usually 40 acre plots for 300k and it's flat and usually in the middle of another field of someone elses. Back to biochar, i believe it's beneficial used in ways that i mentioned and would love to hear other ideas for it. Maybe we can drive around gasifier cars and tractors again. Mount one to the front of the ol' ferrari. I live on 1/8th of an acre right now and don't need biochar. I take all the neighbors leaf piles that were waiting for city pickup and compost them in my front yard. Throwing in a hugelkulture row in garden, sheet mulch on one row, raised bed on one row then a row of vines climbing and of course throwing in some clover to grow where ever and start cover cropping. I'm done with tilling from now on. My dad debates the clover and says they will choke everything out. He worked for U.s.d.a before i was alive. I like to prove people wrong. I'm done with fancy flowerbed though i have to make them nice because the wife doesn't care about permaculture at all since we don't share food bill and refuses to lay off the taco bell. So this is my endeavor that i hope my newly born son will someday understand. Sorry for making this long and off topic ALOT.
 
pollinator
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biochar can be sustainable, but the way most people do it now is worthless and a waste of energy and material. there are people out there turning quality material into char, when the reality is biochar is best made from waste material. ive made char from my waste chicken coop litter, fall leaves, sticks from my property, hulls from winnowing crops, etc....its when people go out, buy good wood, and char that which is the nonsense part of biochar.

that said used right it can provide a great buffer early on when your restoring the soil to high fertility. and can help horrible soil turn into black gold.

i find myself using it more on areas that were disturbed and need recooping, once the land starts to heal itself the char isnt as important, but it does help get to that point faster imo.
 
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Location: West Virginia/ Dominican Republic
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Bio-char in my opinion is one of those good if obtainable but not good if it needs to be made.
All the carbon that is originally in the material used to make char is not in it when it is finished. Bio- char is basically charcoal and a good portion of the carbon from the original organic material is burned away.
An increased net effect could be gained by just composting the original material, using for mulch directly or using it for chicken litter prior to composting.
If you have a ready source of bio-char that is a waste product from another process that you can get , then I would say use it. But to make it is not really beneficial.
Sort of like using shipping containers for buildings. A good thing because they are already there and available but would not be a good thing to have one constructed new and shipped in.
 
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Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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I dont know, if you live in the desert, i would add it. It helps form voids to hold water too...
 
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Location: Western Pennsylvania
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Hey matt, I ran into the biochar idea following a youtube tangent from self-watering plant containers. Apparently the added carbon helps soils retain water better so it's especially helpful in sandy soils. I agree with the other posters on this thread, bio char will definately help (its a natural and major component of the richest soils on the planet - terra pretta soil) but its best made from waste materials and made correctly or else you are dumping lotsa carbon into the atmosphere when the point is to lock it up in a very stable form and store it in your homestead system. I know nothing of the mechanics of how to properly make biochar other than it is essential to use the pyrolitic gasses from the biochar parent material as fuel to keep the fire burning...I'd love to see a rocket mass heater design that uses scrap wood as the insulation for the stovepipe in the heaters bell (barrel) where the wood, once converted to biochar could be easily cleared out for use in the garden, let's try it!
 
steward
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Biochar is extremely absorbent. Before you bury it, it needs to be saturated (compost tea is probably best), or else it will just absorb whatever moisture is in the soil, thereby robbing your plants, and killing your microbes. Its original use was in a tropical rain forest, where water was abundant.

It can store excessive winter rains for use in the dry season. In a dry climate, it can store the available water, but may not share it.
 
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The water storage capabilities of biochar are not really greater than for organic matter - adding leaves (or wood with hugelkultur) does not rob the soil of moisture - all of these will hold water when water is present, and gradually release it. The thing about biochar is that it is very resistant to microbial decay. With biochar, one loses about half the biomass (and gets heat) in the manufacturing, but then it stays around much longer than ordinary cellulose and lignin from compost. On balance, biochar ties up carbon much longer than compost or mulch.
 
Matt Marksman
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Happy to see posts so quickly on my first topic, lol. I live in an area that has decent soil. I'm in ohio. I go a north then you get into more clay but where i'm at is ideal but i'm just south of any dependable lake effect (lake erie) weather. Seems like people are on the same page for bio char. If it's not stacking functions then it's not worth it. I would like to try using a bunch of other scraps with some biomass to make it. I'd be interested to see how leaves would work. Once i acquire land i was thinking of starting a tree service with a pickup and a chainsaw just to get the wood instead of it going to landscapers and them just selling it right back to people when the grind it up. Can't beat that money, it's usually 500-1000 to take a tree down for someone, you sell some firewood 50, a truckload or mulch, make some biochar to sell then save some for hugelkulture. I'd rather just live off my own land but i will be hard i'm thinking with an enormous mortgage. I wonder what other materials besides wood or plant based that can be burnt and make something close to biochar that would normally fill a landfill. As long as a gasifier could cleanly burn so it doesn't spu chemicals into air or store them into the char. I see that one guy on here with that process of turning trash or anything with carbon into gas and oil. After i saw that i was thinking it's about time to get a delorean.
 
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Location: Douglas County OR
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The thing about biochar is that it is very resistant to microbial decay. With biochar, one loses about half the biomass (and gets heat) in the manufacturing, but then it stays around much longer than ordinary cellulose and lignin from compost. On balance, biochar ties up carbon much longer than compost or mulch.


I was just talking to someone about this yesterday in regards to our very clay soil here in the pacific northwest of the US. His take is that a primary benefit of char for these soils is probably for long lasting tilth improvement. To which end all the powdery stuff people are generally trying for is likely less useful than a mix of sizes up to pea sized bits. I know the reason for pulverization is to increase surface area, but may not be as important for us here. My hope is to do hugelkultur beds with a generous amount of char worked in. I have a number of slash piles on the land to work with, so hope to use only waste wood in the process.
 
                        
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reckon on one getting more out of composting/hugelkultur than causing pollutiondelving into slash and burn technology. all our composting and vermiculture happens in the gardens right wherethe benefit is needed.

http://www.lensgarden.com.au/permaculture_essay.htm

len
 
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Location: Vashon WA, near Seattle and Tacoma
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I make biochar in 55-gallon TLUDs and in #10 tin cans inside the wood stove. I live in western Washington and have a lot of woody waste. The big dry stuff becomes firewood. The big wet stuff or rotting stuff goes into hugelkultur. What's left over after that becomes biochar. There's plenty for all of it. It doesn't have to be one or the other in such plenty. It can be all of them.

I charge my char with comfrey juice, diluted with rain water 20 to 1. I make the juice by pressing the comfrey leaves and stems without adding any water. I call it comfrey juice, but I add a lot of nettle and bracken -- which I find is also a dynamic accumulator. Sepp Holzer says common tansy is, too.

I try to grind my char to powder, but I'm not a fanatic about it. My cattle like to munch on it. Haven't fed it to the hogs yet.



 
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Dear Permies,

This modification of a basic TLUD (top lit up draft) small cook stove adds a retort on top. A great innovation, and to me the best , bar none appliance for home made biochar.

Dr. Hugh McLaughlin and Doug Clayton have just wrapped up a paper describing what they have been doing this year with regards to the "Jolly Roger" which will be posted to Tom Miles to be posted on the discussion web site. a youtube you can see here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg95KYrH8PI


JRO The Jolly Roger Oven

http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/taxonomy/term/1237
 
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John Polk wrote:Biochar is extremely absorbent. Before you bury it, it needs to be saturated (compost tea is probably best), or else it will just absorb whatever moisture is in the soil, thereby robbing your plants, and killing your microbes. Its original use was in a tropical rain forest, where water was abundant.

It can store excessive winter rains for use in the dry season. In a dry climate, it can store the available water, but may not share it.



Woohoo - so it would work up here in the sodden fields of Scotland where everything is currently resembling a bog
 
John Polk
steward
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I hadn't thought of that. Most people utilize it as a means of storing water in their soils. In your case, I would say NOT to soak it first, since you WANT it to soak the water FROM the soil. That may turn out to be another good use for it.

However, if the soil is constantly wet, once the char is saturated, it will remain so, and cease to gather more.

EDITED to add:

I noticed that in an earlier post you stated you have heavy clay soil. The problem with clay soils is that the particles are tiny, which makes it slow to drain. Because of that, I would suggest not pulverizing the char (as some suggest), as that could compound the problem. Instead, I would suggest breaking in into pieces about the size of a green pea...nothing smaller than a grain of rice. That would help your drainage problems, even after the char has reached maximum absorption capacity.
 
gardener
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Katy Whitby-last wrote:

John Polk wrote:Biochar is extremely absorbent. Before you bury it, it needs to be saturated (compost tea is probably best), or else it will just absorb whatever moisture is in the soil, thereby robbing your plants, and killing your microbes. Its original use was in a tropical rain forest, where water was abundant.

It can store excessive winter rains for use in the dry season. In a dry climate, it can store the available water, but may not share it.



Woohoo - so it would work up here in the sodden fields of Scotland where everything is currently resembling a bog



In my limited experience, charcoal is pretty similar to peat; it's absorbent, but neither has much nutritive value (peat probably has more).
So if your bog already has a lot of peat or un-decomposed organic matter, I wouldn't guess you need charcoal. Raised beds, bog-happy plants, nutrients from off-site (seaweed / etc) or drainage as a last resort (can damage watersheds for generations).

I have to admit I came to this topic to rant. After seeing the sensible and well-reasoned discussion, I am less inclined to rant, but since I had such a good rant prepared, I will share a moderate version of it. 'Reflections':
I've seen a lot of bad applications of biochar. The worst-case is basically people burning a smoky fire, and feeling self-righteous that they are saving the world because someone else said so.
It's therapeutic to burn things; I can understand the emotional attraction. But it's hard to see how a little pellet-gassifier is doing anything but adding to the atmospheric carbon load.

I hope those here won't take offense if I say I do get tired of hearing about people doing primitive experiments in temperate climates, in hopes that their enlightened efforts could 'save the world' by alleviating problems they don't understand. If you don't have any experience of the third-world, designing them a new kitchen seems presumptuous. If you can't do basic carbon math, how can you adjust your impact on atmospheric carbon? (Hint: Burn fewer things; use less processed stuff.)
Many on these forums have a much more practical interest in improving their own small, familiar corner of the world, and I appreciate that very much. And I appreciate the attention to local conditions, and local wastes: it's not question of 'Biochar, good or bad?" but "Biochar, suitable or unsuitable here?"
It seems particularly ironic that we've been criticizing 'slash-and-burn' or swidden farming, but now we are burning our slash and calling it biochar? There was a big scandal at Oregon's major agricultural university, about a grad student producing evidence that burning did not speed forest recovery (leaving slash to compost on site worked better). His results were accepted to a peer-reviewed journal, then an industry-paid professor tried to get the article pulled. Former professor, now. We have to be careful whose band-wagon we jump on.

So I'd caution anyone to do a little field-testing before making a decision about this new phenomenon.

The best application of biochar that I've seen so far, was a homesteader friend in southwestern Oregon. He put it to the test. The climate in Port Orford is temperate rainforest with clay soils, nutrient-washed and slightly acidic, very similar to the original terra preta context in tropical rainforest. Aside from the heat, he is operating in pretty similar conditions.
He makes his charcoal on site from invasive weeds (Himalayan blackberry canes) that would otherwise have to be kept isolated from the rest of the compost. (I believe many of the weeds he burns are from his ex-wife's abandoned garden, so he's getting the full therapeutic value of 'cleansing with fire' as well.)
He tested various proportions in a few of his greenhouse pots, and liked the results. Next season, he mixed a similar proportion into 2 of his 12 raised garden beds. His garden beds were recently made from clay subsoil, not topsoil, so he'd been adding compost. But even with goats, garden, and 'imported organics,' he doesn't produce compost fast enough to keep up with the new garden beds' soil needs. His garden beds with charcoal did better that first year than the ones without, by an appreciable margin (maybe 10-20% better growth). He is planning to add more next year, but to keep some beds with just compost for controls.

I'd love to see a 5-year experiment to see if charcoal amendment really did increase long-term biomass
- compared to the same amount of woody material (and nitrogen 'primer') applied as compost, or as hugulkultur. -
Plant growth could be compared separately, or included with the biomass figures.
It's not hard to test soil biomass: Weigh a soil sample, dry it thoroughly in an oven, weigh it again, then burn out the organic matter in a closed container, and weigh it again.
First weight - second weight = water storage in the seasonal conditions you sampled (you could drench it first, and let it drain, for a more standard test).
Second weight - third weight = organic matter (biomass). Give or take a few living things that get dessicated in the process.
This is an experiment anyone can do with a kitchen scale.

I won't be doing this experiment up here on the Wisner mountain, since our high-desert soils are cool enough to preserve punky wood or dessicated horse-dung for years. We have 'hugulkultur' without nutrients, courtesy of the loggers' bulldozed slash piles. Any biomass I can find, I will be adding directly as compost or mulch, looking to shade the soil, and preserve nutrients that would be lost in the biochar process.

I admit I am biased.
As a side comment: Making a rocket stove to generate biochar is like using a whiskey still to make non-alcoholic beer. They are opposite ends of a spectrum. There is a central process involved (fermentation and distillation / combustion) but the goals are almost completely opposite (clean complete combustion into gas / smoky pyrolization with non-burned byproducts). And as a rocket stove enthusiast, I am somewhat biased to regard biochar as... well, maybe slightly more attractive than slug bait.

Hope to hear some other reports of results, after the speculation dies down.

Yours,
Erica
 
gardener
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I think the main idea of biochar is to improve the soil. Because it is full of air and decomposes amazingly slowly, it aids the kind of gas and microbiology exchange, particularly in clay or sandy soils, that enable the soil food web to prosper. I think it's mainly a long term benefit, that goes along with all of the other things you can do to your soil. I hope to do it one day, but haven't yet. The possible carbon limiting effect is secondary in my mind, but it makes sense that it works together with encouraging improvement of soil food web.
John S
PDX OR
 
                        
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one opinion i heard suggested it could take a 1000 years to do what it is supposed to do. just my anecdotal we used to add what charocoal we got into our gardens our experience was i wouldn't go out of my way to pollute and make the stuff(some people got a business making and selling these incinerators - mind you over here an incinerator in the back yard is not legal, EPA plans on no solid fuel BBQ's and no solid fuel stove/heaters in homes), as those gardens did no better than others that got none. part that i also wonder about how the best parts of permaculture that might help get overshadowed by these sorts of fads, those pic's on my page showing actual home burners even one in the amazon reagion all emitting pollution, and when they lift the lids what invisible but maybe not odourless gases escape. me i reckon if not polluting is part of the agenda then best not to try and justify the pollution caused for some unmeasurable gain, naturaly that means no mumbo jumbo.

the other thing never mentioned in producing this thing is doing it large enough to make enough then transporting it all around the america's at the very least. i've seen all the arguments to me they don't hold water, all feel good.

the way i see permacutlure is to get people to do what they can or need to do along the same lines of nature, nature relies heavily on break down mulching.

erica covers it.

len
 
erich Knight
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Dear Erica,
Both the Organic and Agricultural chemical schools of soil science recognize Biochar as a powerful tool to
foster biodiversity and nitrogen efficiency in soils.

Recent work by C. Steiner, at University of Georgia, showing a 52% reduction of NH3 loss when char is used as a composting accelerator. This will have profound value added consequences for the commercial composting industry by reduction of their Green House Gas emissions and the sale of compost as an organic nitrogen fertilizer. http://www.ibi2010.org/wp-content/uploads/BiocharPoultrySteiner.pdf

Biochar effects on soil biota – A review
Soil Biology and Biochemistry journal, a review of international work by Lehmann & Janice Thies; http://www.biochar-international.org/node/2528
The North Carolina Farm Center has large scale field application trials encompassing 16 acres on two farms in southeastern North Carolina.
http://www.biochar-international.org/profiles/northcarolinafarmcenter

Virginia Tech is in their sixth year of field trials with the Carbon Char Group's "CharGrow" formulated bagged product.
http://www.carbonchar.com/plant-performance

 
Katy Whitby-last
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Erica Wisner wrote:

In my limited experience, charcoal is pretty similar to peat; it's absorbent, but neither has much nutritive value (peat probably has more).
So if your bog already has a lot of peat or un-decomposed organic matter, I wouldn't guess you need charcoal.

Yours,
Erica



unfortunately it's boggy because of the very high rainfall and the heavy clay not because of any peat.

I was hoping this would give me a use for a big pile of gorse that was cut down a few years ago as I have too much to use up on hugel beds and I also need a way to deal with perennial weeds that doesn't involve putting them in the bin.
 
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For those who want to learn more about biochar, I recommend a couple of books as a good place to start:

1 The Biochar Revolution
http://biochar-books.com/TBRDetails

2. The Biochar Solution by Albert Bates of "The Farm" in TN.
http://www.biocharsolution.com/

Lastly, master gardener Doris Hamill of NASA/Langley organized "The Biochar Activity Kit" - an educational tool for grades 9 - 12
http://www.greaterdemocracy.org/archives/1316

Have fun,

Jock
 
John Sizemore
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I remember watching a video where bio char is made out of bamboo as a means to sequester carbon. The idea is the bio char stays on the soil a long time. I guess from the cap and trade idea it works but I just think the reduction of energy demand is the best way to reduce pollution,
 
Jock Gill
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Erica,

I read your note and admire you for admitting your bias. I hope you will not mind if I suggest a few ideas that reflect my pro- biochar bias.

You write: 'There is a central process involved (fermentation and distillation / combustion) but the goals are almost completely opposite (clean complete combustion into gas / smoky pyrolization with non-burned byproducts). And as a rocket stove enthusiast, I am somewhat biased to regard biochar as... well, maybe slightly more attractive than slug bait."

If you were to make a small TLUD, perhaps as shown in the Biochar ACtivity Kit", <http://www.greaterdemocracy.org/archives/1316>; you would see for yourself that even a simple TLUD in a 15 oz can is NOT very smokey. Quite the opposite. A well tuned device burns pyrolytic gases much cleaner than burning solid biomass -- with many fewer nasty by-products than your average wood stove. Particulate matter, especially at the micron level, in the exhaust stream of combustion systems is always an issue. Please watch this video to see how smoke free pyrolysis can be: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg95KYrH8PI>. Further, the byproduct, charcoal, is not unburned at all. Burning = combustion. Pyrolysis is NOT combustion. Rather, the biochar is the harvest of carbon that photosynthesis has pulled from the atmosphere. It also converts the carbon from easily oxidized organic carbon to difficult to oxidize elemental carbon. It is this conversion that give biochar its longevity in the soil. It is this long residence time in the soil, the retardation of the natural carbon cycle, that leads many to say that biochar is carbon negative. Every one pound of biochar put in the ground has removed 3 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere. This removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is a good thing. Why not embrace it?

Fundamentally, a TLUD is not a Rocket Stove. Nor is a retort a rocket stove. A well designed TLUD, for example, could be used to provide the thermal energy to heat a thermal mass as in a RTM heater. The difference is that it would take more feedstock to offset the carbon being harvested for use as a soil amendement. This extra biomass improves the efficiency of the systems removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. And a TLUD powering a thermal mass heater would be carbon negative, which the Rocket Stove is not. In this way the biomass, perhaps wood, would have at least three functions in the stack: heating your home, providing carbon for your garden, and lessening the CO2 load in the atmosphere. What is not to like?

A consideration I do not see any mention of is simply this: what would be the impact on forests if millions of people started to use large amounts of wood in a HugelKultur raised bed garden? Further, it would appear that the wood and its carbon will need to be restored every few decades. If a mix of biochar and compost were used instead, it would deliver benefits for many times longer than the use of simple raw biomass. Thus the use of biochar and compost would extend the use of the garden without the need for regular infusions of woody biomass. Evidence: the vitality of centuries old terra pretta.

Note: Biochar is sterile and empty when it comes out of the TLUD or retort. It is important to "charge" it with nutrients, minerals, water, and microbes before adding it to your soil. Mixing it with good compost, perhaps with some sea salts, is a great way to "charge" the biochar.

In the above scenario, it is important to understand that the biochar does not have to be made from wood. I have made excellent biochar from grass. Others have done so with many other materials, waste streams, including paper and sewage sludge.

In the end, we both want the same thing: A new world that is better than simply sustainable. Raised beds are great. Thermal mass heaters are great. Compost is great. Being carbon negative is certainly attractive. Food, water and energy security are all highly valuable goals. I suspect we also agree that it is important to do more with less, thus I am sure you too support energy positive housing.

Finally, in the end, the use of biomass for energy is at best a bridge to a future that has found better ways to get the job done. And I do NOT mean nukes

Regards,

Jock





 
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https://permies.com/t/26408/rocket-stoves/Waste-biochar-rocket-stove

Here. That'll take you to a discussion about turning human and pet manure into biochar, rendering it safe and pathogen free, then amending soil with it or using it for heating fuel.

Trees need not be used to make biochar, especially with biobriquetting technology available today. That thinking is narrow, as pointed out above. If we keep an open mind I'm sure we could identify lots of local waste materials that could be cleanly converted to biochar other than trees.

And there are uses for biochar beyond soil amendments and energy. It's not a question of whether or not we should be making biochar, but what percentages of it should be used for which of the over 50 uses for biochar and which local materials we should be making it from. My opinion, at any rate.
 
erich Knight
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55 Uses of Biochar

by Hans-Peter Schmidt

Initially only used in agriculture, the range of uses for biochar now covers a wide range of different fields, giving this plant-based raw material the chance to make the most of its positive properties. Wherever biochar is specifically used even for industrial purposes, the carbon taken from the atmosphere in the form of CO2 can be stored for long periods or at least used to replace fossil carbon sources.

http://www.ithaka-journal.net/55-anwendungen-von-pflanzenkohle?lang=en

To appreciate the wider applications of Biochar, the use as a feed additive and nutrient management tool, Please review my presentation and slides of this opening talk for the USBI Biochar conference in Sonoma California. This is the third US Biochar conference, after ISU 2010 and Colorado 2009;

"Carbon Conservation for Home, Health, Energy & Climate"

http://2012.biochar.us.com/sites/2012.biochar.us.com/files/presentations/ErichKinght.pdf

Modern Thermal conversion of biomass burns only the hydrocarbons in that biomass, conserving the carbon for the soil. At the large farm or village scale modern pyrolysis reactors can relieve energy poverty, food insecurity and decreased dependency on chemical fertilizers.

Please take a look at this YouTube video by the CEO of CoolPlanet Biofuels, guided by Google's Ethos and funding, along with GE, BP and Conoco, they are now building the reactors that convert 1 ton of biomass to 75 gallons of bio – gasoline and 1/3 ton Biochar for soil carbon sequestration.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkYVlZ9v_0o

If CoolPlanet Biofuels processed the entire projected US biomass harvest in 2030, of 1.6 Billion Tons, the yields would be;
120 Billion Gallons of tank ready fuel ,(The US uses 150 Billion gallons/year), and 0.3 Billion Tons of Biochar
The big numbers are jaw dropping,
The 0.3 Billion Tons of Biochar, with a surface area of 400 m2/gram means; One Ton has a surface area of 98,000 Acres!
Now for conversion fun: 98,000 Acres is equal to 152 square miles!! ....
So; 300 Million Tons of Biochar equals 45 Billion Square Miles, or 230 times the entire surface of the earth!

Costs; The field to wheel analysis is $1.50/gallon!

To review other developments in cleanburning cook stoves, pyrolytic home heating stoves etc. Please review my Sonoma Biochar Conference Report;

http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/biochar-policy/message/3921
 
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Just want to put this info out, re: biochar, for the 'small holder' with minimum time and funds. Most advice is to not use commercial bbq briquettes due to additives, etc. However, in the Frequent Flyer, I see that Trader Joe's advertises theirs ($8 for 18 lbs here in Seattle area) as "harvested from sustainably grown hardwoods, with no additives except cornstarch as a binder, and safe enough that the ashes can be used in the garden." Of coure, for biochar, it would have to have organic nutrients added...urine? compost tea, etc. And maybe John Elliott's method of leaving it outdoors in used black plant pots for exposure to rain, bugs, spores, etc, etc. And maybe crushed??

btw, I read a suggestion somewhere that aquarium charcoal filters would be good... and I found a small pet store that will save the used charcoal for me :)
 
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Hi everyone-

Apologies for resurrecting an old thread--I'm not a frequent poster and am not sure if it's better etiquette to just start a new thread.

I am a chemistry teacher at the Jakarta International School in Indonesia. My students are doing a project regarding the small-scale production of biochar using agricultural/urban waste (leaves, rice husks, coconut husks, branches, etc.). I think it is a marvelous project that really could make a difference in the pollution levels. I am not trying to open the can-o-worms regarding megascale biochar production. This project will replace open-pit burning of biomass (usually mixed with plastic!) that is done on a daily basis around our campus.

We have access to 55 gallon drums, and a reasonably extensive workshop (welding equipment, angle grinders, etc.). I am new to biochar and this design is my best 'conglomeration' of what I have seen online.

My main questions are regarding the secondary combustion aspect of the design. I see that most designs (though not all) use a smaller chimney--I assume that this is to increase the pressure/velocity of the exhaust gases, to ensure more complete combustion. Unfortunately, we only have large barrels to work with, so I think we will need to use a chimney that is the same size as the barrel below it. The "concentrator ring" will help to serve the function of intensifying the exhaust gas flow (I hope). We could potentially locate some smaller diameter ducting to add on top of the top barrel to further increase the draw.

Please see the diagram and feel free to make any suggestions. We hope to demo the barrel this weekend for a large group of students.

Thank you!
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[Thumbnail for Blank-6.jpg]
 
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Ryan Lenz wrote:

We have access to 55 gallon drums, and a reasonably extensive workshop (welding equipment, angle grinders, etc.). I am new to biochar and this design is my best 'conglomeration' of what I have seen online.

My main questions are regarding the secondary combustion aspect of the design. I see that most designs (though not all) use a smaller chimney--I assume that this is to increase the pressure/velocity of the exhaust gases, to ensure more complete combustion. Unfortunately, we only have large barrels to work with, so I think we will need to use a chimney that is the same size as the barrel below it. The "concentrator ring" will help to serve the function of intensifying the exhaust gas flow (I hope). We could potentially locate some smaller diameter ducting to add on top of the top barrel to further increase the draw.



You don't have to use a large chimney, Ryan. I use a vegetable can that is 6" in diameter and 7" tall and it draws just fine. Or you can do what this guy did:

 
Ryan Lenz
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Hi John,

Thanks for the input....just curious, how is your smoke level using such a small chimney? I was under the impression that a chimney needed a certain volume/length in order to give enough time/space for the VOC to be combusted fully, thus avoiding smoke.

I saw a barrel in action up in rural Kalimantan that had a similar chimney setup that you described, and it was ridiculously smoky. Made decent biochar, but probably killed a million bugs in the trees above it!
 
John Elliott
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Mine is pretty smoky too, I doubt there is any secondary combustion going on. I bought this barrel last week and my first concern was that I could get it to draw. Next project is to make the chimney barrel big enough (and hot enough) so that there will be secondary combustion. But my neighbors are jackasses with their burn barrels, so I just may leave it that way so I can blow smoke in their direction.
 
nancy sutton
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I wanted to be sure this info gets included in the 'Biochar, Is It Good?" discussion. Steven Edholm of SkillCult (great site) did this interesting survey of 1800 farmers' experience using char .....

http://skillcult.com/blog/2016/6/18/a-few-juicy-accounts-of-biochar-use-in-19th-century-n-america-and-europe?rq=biochar
 
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Well worth the read, here is a longer version of the same article:   https://skillcult.com/blog/2012/05/18/some-citations-on-biochar-in-europe-and-america-in-the-19th-century

Ray Sauder
 
Ray Sauder
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And my addition to the comments:

I also thank you for this research. I’ve just recently been learning about and making biochar for my small city lot …. 1/3 acre…..

The thing that immediately jumped out to me was how many of these 19th century people just spread out the biochar over the surface of the field or pasture! And got wonderful results! Thirteen of the 33 short articles had some variation of “a lot with its surface deeply blackened, thickly strewn with pulverized charcoal” or “top dressed – the charcoal lay on the land over winter” or “broadcast by hand, shovel or seed drill”. Only five of the articles said “mix in with the earth” or “below the root level” or “at the bottom of the pot”.

Now everything I’ve read indicates that’s just wrong. All the literature says dig it in 4 inches or 6 inches or at least below the expected root level. And mix it with compost, or manure, or compost tea, etc. etc.

But what if it wasn’t wrong? What if all the hard to believe successes were a result of broadcasting the char on the surface? What if the char adsorbs nitrogen and other good nutrients from the air and then every time it rains they wash into the soil for the plants? That would be a lot less work and a never-ending supply of nitrogen. As earthworms and other organisms dig it into the ground, it will continue to do all the good that charged biochar does mixed into the soil…jus wonderin’

Another issue I’ve been thinking about lately is how to take advantage of heavy dew during severe drought in the middle of summer. Might surface biochar condense and capture dew and make it available to plants below ? Several of the articles commented on how well fields covered with biochar fared during summer droughts…..surely even if char can hold a volume of water equal to its own volume; that wouldn’t be enough from one rain to another 3 weeks later! And could the char (I know it’s black and absorbs the sun) even be an insulator due to its porosity and keep the soil cooler underneath???

Any ideas on these thoughts?
Ray Sauder
 
John Suavecito
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Hey Ray,
I hadn't really thought about this in the 19th century. Thanks for bringing it up to our attention again.

It is interesting that they just laid it on the ground.  Of course in Brazil, Terra Preta might have happened that way and the soil just became much more fertile after 10 years. We don't know.

The dew question is an interesting one.  I still think it's better to have it in the ground where the roots are doing all of their biochemical reactions, but I don't know.
John S
PDX OR
 
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I have spread my bio char directly on the surface and had good results. A couple of years later it ends up mixed in with the soil pretty evenly anyway, just by the actions of worms, critters and normal gardening. I only bury it if I am disturbing the soil anyway - such as when harvesting potatoes, preparing a new bed etc...

In the discussion above, in this very old thread, there is a discussion about making biochar being smokey and comments about how to make it. I think in the 8 years since then better methods for making it than described above have been refined. The kin tiki cone kiln is one, trench methods another.
 
Ray Sauder
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Thanks, Michael.  I'd like to hear more about people who have just spread the biochar on the ground.  I've been thinking a lot about it.

     I have started some experiments, but they are long term, and some time will pass before I have any concrete answers.  Now you should know that I am a contrarian by nature with a propensity to look at things from a different point of view- backwards, sideways, etc .- upside down being my favorite.  This colors my view of things, I freely admit and also I am sometimes wrong!  It happens.  My motto is: “There’s no ox so dumb as the orthodox!”  The best example I can give is this:  for thousands of years, everyone knew the earth was flat – it was pretty obvious that if it weren’t we would all fall off….except, wait a minute, everyone was wrong.  A few individuals claimed it was round, but in putting forth their views, they were pretty much “spitting into the wind.”
    The subject I broached in my last post needs a name so I’ll call it the “Surface Biochar Theory”.  I find a need to explain all the exceptional mid-1800’s posts on charcoal/biochar.  Especially in light of the fact that their bio-char was an eclectic assortment of left-over waste from brush burning, coal  burning, steam engine wood burning, peat burning, etc., etc.  And superior results to what everyone now knows is proper mixing into the soil and proper charging it first.  Oh and guess what?  No one has ever explained how the terra preta soil can be harvested every 20 years and it keeps renewing itself with no new bio-char added.  Could the Surface Bio-char Theory explain that phenomenon?  Maybe……

    O.K. let’s start with nitrogen because that is bio-char’s biggest disadvantage.  Everyone knows (and in this case it is well documented) that it robs the soil of nitrogen during the first year unless previously charged with nitrogen before mixing into the soil.  But that wouldn’t be the case if the char was deposited on the surface.  In my first post I glibly asked, “could the bio-char adsorb nitrogen from the air and then have it washed into the soil by rain?”  In my research I found no answer whatsoever to that question.  However, nitrates usable to plants, as well as a baker’s dozen other nutrients can and do precipitate from the air in the form of dew!  Lots of studies have catalogued the chemical composition of dew and rain drops, usually with the goal of calculating pollution or pollution cleansing by dew and rain.  

Chemical compositions of Dew and Scavenging of Particles in Changchun, China
Rain and dew waters were collected and measured in Changchun city during 2013 and 2014. The concentrations of cations (Ca2+,Mg2+,Na+,K+,andNH4+) and anions (F−,Cl−,NO3−,andSO42−), EC (308𝜇S/cm), and TDS (154 mg/L) measured in dews were considerably higher than those measured in rains. Dew exhibited near-neutral pH (to 7). The dew chemical composition revealed an abundance of the major cations Ca2+and Mg2+ (continental origin) and the major anions SO42− and NO3− (anthropogenic origin). The acidity from dissolved CO2, SO𝑥, and NO𝑥 was mostly neutralized by NH4+ and Ca2+, thus giving an alkaline character to dew.  Rain events affected the ions concentrations of dew.  Dew events with the higher ionic concentration happened following longer periods without rain. In the whole process of condensation, dew had the ability to capture particulates.  The purification ability of dew was strong at the beginning and weakened at the end of the condensation process.

Generally, dew contains twice the amount and twice the number of compounds as rain because it condensates closer to the ground and there is less total water in dew.  Also, rain may fall only rarely during a period where dew may collect daily.  In average areas, dewfall is 10% of annual rainfall, but this may be significant if it comes when needed the most and if it collects nutrients for plants right out of the thin air!  Consider this:


The mineral content of air and rain and its importance to agriculture
Ingham, G. (1950). The mineral content of air and rain and its importance to agriculture. The Journal of Agricultural Science, 40(1-2), 55-61. doi:10.1017/S0021859600045500
o DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021859600045500
Extract
1. Evidence, both direct and indirect, has been adduced to prove that the air is sufficient both qualitatively and quantitatively to supply all the nutritional requirements of plants, independently of the soil or soil bacteria.
2. The fertility of an undisturbed soil lies chiefly in the surface inch or two and is due to adsorption of plant nutrients from the air by organic and inorganic colloids, such nutrients being carried down to the roots of the growing crop by rain.

So can bio-char condense dew?  We know it could hold on to the water and nutrients if it did.  In thousands of references to dew collecting, ancient and modern, I found zero mention of charcoal except to clean the dew after collection.  That doesn’t look promising.  But wait.  In a study of unusual materials to collect dew, 9 of the top 20 best materials were open celled of various sizes, 5 of those being made of pyrolyzed polyurethane foams of different porosities – so carbon from foam from oil rather than wood.
       
Reticulated vitreous carbon foams were prepared by carbonizing polyurethane precursor foams

Qualities needed for good dew collection:
1) Large surface area                                                                                                      
2) Good emission of heat to cool at night
3)   Rough, hydrophilic surfaces to grab dew; Smooth, hydrophobic surfaces to let dew drip by gravity
4)     Alter air movement. (need 1 to 4 m/sec) to bring more moist air
         But not more to evaporate the dew again…..)

So bio-char comes up short on number 3).  Well sometimes.  Up to around 500 degree pyrolyzing, the char is hydrophobic and much of the porous interior is still filled with wood tars, phenols, etc.  Up to 800 degree pyrolyzing, it becomes hydrophilic but some tars and phenols remain.  Flushing with high temperature and high pressure steam removes the last of the tars and the char becomes “activated carbon”, also hydrophilic.  And more to the point, if bio-char can condensate some or even a lot of dew with its load of nutrients, can it then deliver that water and nutrients to the soil.  My own home-made low temperature char is quite hydrophobic until soaked for a few days, but then it becomes a very good wicking material so that is potentially a route to the soil in contact with it……

    So now we come to my final question.  I’ll call it the “Terra Preta Regeneration Theory”.  Terra Preta is mined 2 to 3 feet deep and sold to areas of lower fertility.  It is then left for 20 years during which time it regenerates itself and can be mined again.  With no more bio-char added. How?  I’ve looked at electron microscope pictures of charcoal with bacteria clustered around pore openings and mycelium threads growing right down into the pores as far as can be seen.  What are they after in there?  Not carbon; they could get that on the surface.  Probably not nutrients captured by the char unless they can enter tubes too small for the bacteria or have enzymes that the bacteria don’t.  What I believe is that they are after the tars and phenols of the original wood and that they can use those for energy.  I haven’t yet found research to support this idea, but I have found research showing that bacteria can live and grow on these tars and phenols:

From:   Impact of Biochar Application to Soil on the Root-Associated Bacterial Community Structure
     “Additional biochar-stimulated genera not affiliated with plant growth stimulation or induced plant resistance in the literature included Hydrogenophaga and Dechloromonas, whose relative abundance was 0.2% ± 0.02% in control samples versus 0.7% ± 0.16% in the biochar-amended samples and 0.06% ± 0.08% in control samples versus 2.2% ± 1.6% in the biochar-amended sample, respectively (Fig. 4). Hydrogenophaga spp. were shown to dominate biphenyl catabolism in a horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) rhizosphere contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are naturally present in coal tar, crude oil, and natural gas (53). In addition, Hydrogenophaga spp. can utilize the aromatic contaminant 4-aminobenzenesulfonate (4-ABS) as the sole carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur source under aerobic conditions (19). Dechloromonas spp. are found in soil environments, where they can oxidize toluene, benzoate, and chlorobenzoate, generally with no detrimental effects on adjacent plants (10). Previously, the chemical analyses of the biochar used in this study revealed that it is enriched with an array of aromatic compounds, such as phenol, methyl-phenol, and dihydroxybenzenes (24). This may explain the enrichment of these aromatic compound degraders in the biochar-amended samples.”
(The major components of wood creosote (phenols) are susceptible to oxidative degradation when exposed to air (oxygen), particularly if the material is basic (high pH).)

From: Wikipedia:  
Microorganisms and animals
Bacteria and fungi (myco-organisms) live and die within the porous media of charcoal, thus increasing its carbon content.
Significant biological black carbon production has been identified, especially under moist tropical conditions. It is possible that the fungus Aspergillus niger is mainly responsible.[43]
The peregrine earthworm Pontoscolex corethrurus (Oligochaeta: Glossoscolecidae) ingests charcoal and mixes it into a finely ground form with the mineral soil. P. corethrurus is widespread in Amazonia and notably in clearings after burning processes thanks to its tolerance of a low content of organic matter in the soil.[54] This as an essential element in the generation of terra preta

One author made an “in passing” remark that maybe bacteria and fungi create carbon and earthworms and other soil creatures carry it to the surface.  I think he was almost right but just got it upside down.  I think the fungi and bacteria create the carbon at the surface and the earthworms and soil creatures carry it down.  I think that fungi and bacteria that are adapted to eating the tars and phenols in the char multiply over time with the addition of char to the surface until they are numerous enough and able to eat the tars and phenols from the leaf and grass and wood litter and turn vegetation into biochar organically.  Really putting the bio into bio-char!

We know from composting that a lot of bacteria use carbon for energy and nitrogen for food and then fungi are needed to break down the cellulose and lignins that are left.  And our temperate forests are full of fungi that can break wood right down to basic nutrients.  But they use up the carbon.  If these special fungi and bacteria noted earlier that are attracted to bio-char can proliferate and break down organic matter in a fashion that leaves the carbon intact,  whoa now we have a carbon sequestering method not previously envisioned!!!  Without burning and wasting more carbon except to get it started.  Example aspen lignin is  (C31H34O11)n. and an example cellulose    is   (C6H10O5)n..  Perhaps these fungi and bacteria can break down these molecules without using up the carbon; maybe using carbon dioxide and/or nitrogen from the air.  I think maybe fungi are the more important agent, simply because with their extensive mycelium network they would have better access to water.  Too bad bio-char already means pyrolyzed; it would have been a good name for organic char.  Maybe Organic Char works.

I was walking in the woods today and I found the same thing in our temperate woodland!  Logs and stumps that were half buried in a bog which were decayed in such a fashion as to leave sheafs of carbon upright on the tops of each hunk of wood.  All the fallen wood or stumps nearby which did not have their feet in the water were decayed in the normal fashion!!!   Maybe this is how the famous black earth of the Holland Marsh north of Toronto was initially formed before they drained it for farmland.  Maybe it is our own preta north…..

Ray Sauder
 
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As promised pictures of using charcoal from the wood stove as mulch in my planters in the greenhouse.
charcole-mulced-wicking-barrel.jpg
Charcoal mulch on widking barrel after tomato plant was done.
Charcoal mulch on widking barrel after tomato plant was done.
peppers-in-november-in-greenhouse-with-charcole-mulch-on-wicking-barrel.jpg
Peppers in November in greenhouse using wicking barrel with charcoal on surface as mulch
Peppers in November in greenhouse using wicking barrel with charcoal on surface as mulch
peppers-were-more-cold-tolerant-than-tomatoes.jpg
peppers were more cold tolerant than tomatoes
peppers were more cold tolerant than tomatoes
 
John Suavecito
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I'm still grinding and inoculating but I am intrigued with what we find out with your method.
John S
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