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Biochar from charcoal that you bought in a store?

 
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A friend of mine suggested doing this, based on this video. I thought she was talking about charcoal briquettes, which I knew wasn't good, because it has chemicals, flaming agents, binders and all kinds of stuff.

When I looked closer, these arent' charcoal briquettes. They claim that it is just charcoal from hardwood. No other ingredients.   Royal Oak was the brand they used, and on their website, they also say it only has burned wood in it.
They also sell briquettes, but that is not what he is using in the video.

I can't think of a real problem with this, can you?  I might start using it in the winter, as it is very hard to burn anything here in the cold drizzle.

I know some people have acreage and huge amounts of organic material to get rid of, but that's not my situation. I think it's more for gardeners than farmers.



Whaddya think?

John S
PDX OR
 
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When I first got started with biochar I bought some bagged hardwood lump charcoal (different brand) and found that it was not completely charred.  Some of it was charred well on the outside but was only torrified on the inside.  I'm not sure if they did this on purpose for sale weight and/or lighting reasons.  The price was decent, but it didn't match my goals for when I make my own.  Still, not a lot of money to trial it.  The only reason that I wouldn't do it is that my primary goal with biochar is to sink carbon.  I'm not sure how much carbon one would actually be sinking with a product like this due to packaging and shipping.  If I was going to do it I'd take a crack at estimating that to confirm that the material is actually carbon negative.  Then if it seems like a decent carbon sink I'd buy just one bag to confirm the quality before getting more.
 
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I don't think I have a problem with using untreated lump charcoal to make biochar per se. I don't think it will poison anyone anytime soon.

Still, I confess it bugs me because char is basically free for the making. For me, from wood waste that otherwise has no other use. Most people throw it on a big pile and light a match. I make char in batches during the winter, enjoying the fire, the process, the sweep of the Milky Way and an occasional pass of the ISS.

But not everyone has a suitable location and the resources to do this. Hmm.
 
John Suavecito
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I think you guys are pretty much right on the button.  I went digging into the archives and found this excellent explanation on another thread:

"You really don't want to use charcoal intended for cooking. The process for making the charcoal is different and there is a substancial difference in what you're getting.

Lump charcoal (I won't even get into briquettes) is loaded with tars and creosotes. This is where the smoky flavor comes from. Well made biochar has cooked all of those chemicals out.

When you make charcoal you are heating up organic woody material in a low oxygen environment, (there are thousands of different ways to do this). The low oxygen environment allows for processes that wouldn't happen with oxygen because the wood would simply burst into flame. So...you apply heat to wood with limited oxygen, the "volatile compounds" will "gassify" into flammable gases and liquids. While the stable portion, the carbon to carbon bonds that make up the structure of the wood will stay intact. This is the charcoal. Biochar is free of volatiles and will have no taste or smell and you can crush it between your fingers without any oily residue. Traditional lump charcoal allows the volatile compounds to redeposit into the pure carbon. Lump charcoal is often much denser than biochar because most of the pore spaces are full of those tars. Many of these volatiles are toxic and will negatively effect your plants. "

This makes sense as to why the guy was saying you have to make more every 3 years.  It's not biochar.  It's charred wood. It will have some of the effects, but not all.  

One of my neighbors was talking about this. She's not exceptionally athletic and a little bit older.  She's mostly a vegetable gardener.  I get how it's not as good for your soil and certainly not as good for sinking carbon in the soil for centuries.  She doesn't have a lot of wood or other free stuff to get rid of, although if you live in the PNW, trees grow too fast and someone is always giving away wood.  I'm sure she doesn't want to build a TLUD and we live in a suburb. No bonfires or large pits of burning material.   I guess it's ok for her, but I won't be doing it.

SOmetimes it's good to figure out why you are doing something in a certain way.

John S
PDX OR

 
Douglas Alpenstock
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In fairness, the stuff is halfway to char. It just needs a reheat by someone with a different objective.
 
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A couple people have mentioned not having enough raw material to make their own biochar. The char doesn't have to be made from wood. I make most of mine from crop residues and crop waste. Sunflower seed shells, corn husks and cobs, empty bean pods, etc. This is especially nice when dealing with plant materials that are infected or infested, which shouldn't be composted, because turning them into char kills whatever nasties are in them while turning them into something useful. Heck, I'm even working on a charcoal-maker that will char the contents of a bucket toilet.

There's probably a difference in the quality of the finished char when compared to biochar made from wood. But, I would bet that the difference isn't enough to be worried about. And it opens up opportunities for people who don't have access to large amounts of wood.

If you can figure out how to make char with a solar oven, you could make the entire process firewood-free.
 
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