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Charcoal/Bio-char Production – Utilizing the volatile gasses, reducing pollution and fire risk

 
Dale Hodgins
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Charcoal/Bio-char Production – Utilizing the volatile gasses, reducing pollution and fire risk

I've read the threads and watched the videos on YouTube and have to say that what I've seen does not tend to increase my respect for my fellow man.

---- FIRST A RANT ---- followed by a solution.
I think that bio-char is a great thing if it works half as well as proponents claim, but some of the methodology employed would be considered primitive by 14th century standards. Some guys are putting in a huge amount of labour for a little bit of product. Others produce enough smoke to draw negative attention from neighbours and officialdom. Most importantly, every video that I've seen made no use of the volatile gasses. Some charcoal makers don't even have the decency to light the gas plume emanating from their crude retorts. Instead they allow all of that unburned turpentine, alcohol, carbon monoxide and who knows what else drift across the fence to their neighbours. Then there's the fire risk of a trillion sparks in the wind. If this was some industrial process unrelated to soil improvement and homesteading, members of this forum would be calling for the heads of these reckless polluters. END OF RANT

SOLUTION – Charcoal and bio-char needs to be produced in a way that is more labour efficient and that does not waste a huge amount of energy while endangering the producer, his property or that of his neighbours. At the very least we need to confine problems to one's own property. I suppose we all have the right to piss away time with backward methodology.

The whole enterprise would be safer, cleaner and more efficient if done inside a clay kiln designed for the purpose. Less material would need to be burned off in order to reach the desired temperature and volatile gasses could be either burned off, or used to power another fuel hungry appliance. Fire risk would be greatly reduced and any smell would be greatly reduced.

Even when produced in optimal conditions, dry wood gives up aprox. 80% of its weight in volatile gasses. Most of us have heard of wood gas generators. A retort is a wood gas generator and this is what those engines burn.

Turpentine, wood alcohol and other things can be distilled from this gas but realistically the body count would get right out of control if every guy with a match and time on his hands tried to run a power plant or a chemical factory. KA-----------BOOM !!!

The simplest and safest thing to do with these gasses is to burn them. But that doesn't mean we have to waste all that energy. The pages of this forum are filled with outdoor, wood burning appliances that could be fired by a glorified tiger torch run on the effluent from a charcoal retort.

THE LIST
Wood gas could power a greenhouse or lumber kiln RMH (I would never pipe this stuff into the house !!!),
an outdoor hot tub,
a cob oven,
a wood fired pottery kiln,
an outdoor boiler for hot water or some combination of these things. Heating these things with gas actually simplifies the operation of some with no solid fuel or ashes to deal with.
Although not without risk, the powering of all of these things would pose less risk than some of the cowboy stuff shown on YouTube and pollution would be drastically reduced.

The retort would need to be located near the item being powered. I could see a cluster containing a conjoined cob oven/pottery kiln built up against a hot tub. The fireproof hose carrying the wood gas is not cheap and it must be insulated, so all items need to be within about 10 ft. of the charcoal retort. Alternatively, the retort could be on wheels. This mobile power plant could be rolled up to whatever appliance requires power on a given day. I'd go stationary and build another retort if the demand for charcoal and heat requires it.

Well, I must admit that this does add quite a bit of work to the process to begin with, but you don't have to go and build all of these things. Just a hot tub could easily use up all of the gas from a 50 lb firing.

It's late at night, so you're getting the brief version of my thoughts on this matter.

Good night and don't blow yourself up !!!

Your tireless inventor: Dale Hodgins

 
Art Esarn
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Dale, we weave another thread:

I second your rant.

1. People espousing being green, yet doing the opposite
e.g. The pursuit of home biochar making (cool in many ways, especially the "stick it to the man, self-sufficiency" ethic while at the same time doing such a miserable job of controlling emissions. I think it is a reasonable standard of care that if you have the technical ability to post a YouTube video, you can do basic research into what you're doing. e.g.:

Basic intro to stove emissions:
http://www.aprovecho.org/web-content/publications/assets/MacCarty%20ESD%20GWP.pdf

From this we see the effects of unburned syngas and other emissions from biochar making
-CO Global Warming Potential (GWP) 1.9x CO2
-CH4 GWP 25x
-other bad stuff

It took me about 3 tries to get the "afternburn" on a primitive TLUD to the point of "no visible emissions". All I had to do was vary the afternburner air input holes by .5-1 square inch. Not using any mechanical draft assistance, I relied on the chimney effect for all the updraft. Having maximal afterburner air was in tension with the power of the updraft. Using wood chips and too much afterburner air caused the reaction to go out halfway down the 30 gallon barrel.

Without a fair bit more effort to measure emissions I used the "far viewing" technique. I looked at the output of the chimney from 15 yards/metres against both the sky and a tree. At that distance, any smoke can be detected as a plume of "less clear/smoky" vs. the "transparent heat haze" of a "clean burn". Trying to do this closer makes it increasingly harder to distinguish between smoky and heat haze.

In any endeavor, there are limits to the duty of care. Have I done double blind, randomized and controlled experiments to see if the "far viewing" technique correlates to measurements by world class instruments of emission GWPs? I vote no.

Is it reasonable to say "Dude, burn your syngas and don't smoke up the place!" I vote yes.

Is it reasonable to do some "bad" stuff while prototyping something to save the world? I vote yes.
Some permaculturists make the argument that it's ok to use non-renewable energy to make sustainable improvements. e.g. fossil fuel backhoes for swales and hugelkultur. I vote yes, as long as a basic analysis is done around the trade-offs. Is making smoke while making biochar a good trade-off? I vote no.

2. Catch and Store Energy
The high temperatures of biochar emissions are even more useful than low temperatures from passive solar heating etc. It is such a shame to have all that energy go up in (hopefully) non-smoke.

Dale, your energy uses of biochar emissions are great, but I'm going to propose the following test for making inventions to use biochar emissions:
a) for the backyard hacker, the invention must be inherently safe i.e. the backyard hacker won't build in automation to regulate anything for safety etc.
b) the backyard hacker won't invest (on average) more than 8 hours to conceive, research, prototype and build an invention

Making biochar itself fits that test. Using biochar emissions is harder. Sticking to that test I've only the following:
1. Roast food on sticks while pyrolizing using the heat coming off the outside of the barrel
2. Load bricks around the barrel, and use the heated bricks.
3. Stand around the barrel on a cold day and enjoy.
4. Run the pyrolysis at night and watch the pretty glow and the shooting flames

Sadly I haven't come up with anything else, but would like to hear of other things.
 
allen lumley
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Dale and Art : Right on !!! I agree that this is important, and we can't allow ourselves the liberty of looking the other way on this one! I don't want to breath my neighbors smoke pollution , and I don't want a knee jerk reaction to my neighbors smoke pollution to reduce my freedom to do what I want on My Own Property !

I have a small problem with damn few clues to find my way through the jungle !

There is a You-tube video showing a (poor) copy of a working Bio-CHAR Kiln at - BioCHAR Kiln Dec 2010 , posted by stella jane 13 , on her channel, stellavision channel !

Somewhere out there, almost certainly at another video sharing site, i have seen the original video !

In the original a load of biochar was run and you could see the use of the wood gases to add to the burn .

While this system uses crude techniques it has potential and produces great charcoal/ Biochar , its a good place to start from especially for someone who wants to run a batch for proof of concept !

I have posted on this video, and 'her home site' w/out response. I am hoping that with more members looking - the original video can be found and torn apart and rebuilt here in these Permies Forums ! Thanks Pyro-Al
 
Dale Hodgins
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Art Esarn wrote:Dale, we weave another thread:

I second your rant.

1. People espousing being green, yet doing the opposite
e.g. The pursuit of home biochar making (cool in many ways, especially the "stick it to the man, self-sufficiency" ethic while at the same time doing such a miserable job of controlling emissions. I think it is a reasonable standard of care that if you have the technical ability to post a YouTube video, you can do basic research into what you're doing. e.g.:


Without a fair bit more effort to measure emissions I used the "far viewing" technique. I looked at the output of the chimney from 15 yards/metres against both the sky and a tree. At that distance, any smoke can be detected as a plume of "less clear/smoky" vs. the "transparent heat haze" of a "clean burn".


I like the YouTube/research idea while remembering that some people master those skills in order to show the world how they light their farts. : The stand back and look aproach can be pretty effective in determining burn cleanliness, I mean with the charcoal, with the farts you want to be close enough to hear him squeal.

As for the 8 hours thing, I think that is as variable as are the various tinkerers. There are those who don't put 8 seconds of thought into things before acting and those who are done in 8 minutes. But there are many who have built their own house or cob oven or hot tub etc... For anyone who already has a wood fired, outdoor appliance, it should be simple enough to join it to an existing charcoal retort within those 8 hours.

allen lumley - I read your interesting thread Rocket stoves in Greenhouses , our own forum topic http://www.permies.com/t/19178/stoves/Rocket-stoves-Greenhouses-forum-topic and thought, now there's where you want to make charcoal. Pre dry the wood in the greenhouse and then burn the wood gas in the RMH. Even the waste heat off the sides of the retort ends up inside the greenhouse. Seems like the perfect marriage.
 
allen lumley
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Dale Hodgins : Yes It can be done ! ( recently I got called out for being to negative ! ) My experience with green houses is limited, but I wanted to deal with some of the special issues involved in Rocket stoves in green houses and how to deal positively with local variations in traditional use patterns and local seasonal weather conditions. There are many places where green houses are operated with such high moisture content that the owner/operator - who thinks air exchange is a bad thing, is moments away from fungus attacks. While properly monitored green houses with heat exchangers work well in many locations there will be a very high failure rate among many Owner/Operators due to a failure to unlearn bad habits ! Hopefully this can be, if not a teaching Forum, a way to point people in the right direction ! Pyro-Allen L.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I envision using a large retort to convert large quantities of cedar scraps and sawdust to wood gas and charcoal. This stuff is given away just down the road. This is mostly small chunk material that would be fed into the retort with a front end loader.

There's another very large type of wood that I can be paid to dispose of. Big, awkward tree stumps are almost impossible to process into firewood but once in a kiln, they will char and can be easily broken up with hand tools. A 500 lb stump (dry weight)will yield about 400 lb of wood gas and 100 lb of charcoal. This goes far beyond my need for heat, but good to know if you're planning to open a paper mill or heat a town. I would never attempt anything that big without engineering help and a contract with BC hydro, a pet crematorium or a pottery guild in hand.

Have a look at this thread and tell me what you'd do with a mountain of free wood scraps that far exceeds domestic needs. Finding Uses for Free Sawmill Waste. http://www.permies.com/t/19173/green-building/Finding-Free-Sawmill-Waste-Cedar
 
Wayne Newton
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Small automated system that creates Electricity and Biochar...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPrYZ55WDQg

Light industrial automated system, again for Electricity and Biochar...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUyDcULt0xc
 
Dale Hodgins
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Wayne Newton wrote:Small automated system that creates Electricity and Biochar...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPrYZ55WDQg

Light industrial automated system, again for Electricity and Biochar...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUyDcULt0xc


Those look like some hot damn machines. I shudder to think what they cost. I'll have a full report on this shortly. I'm off grid with free sawmill waste close at hand. Something like this could be perfect if the price is right and it's not too picky about fuel size and quality.

Are you still playing in Las Vegas ?
 
Wayne Newton
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Dale, here is pricing and additional info for the 2 systems...
Filename: PDF Brochure.pdf
Description: PGS-20 Power, Heat and Biochar
File size: 319 Kbytes
[Download PDF Brochure.pdf] Download Attachment
Filename: BSI B-1000.pdf
Description: Biochar Solutions B-1000 Unit
File size: 180 Kbytes
[Download BSI B-1000.pdf] Download Attachment
 
Abe Connally
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Here's one of the better systems I've seen for using the gases and burning off stuff. Basically, they use a rocket stove to heat the retort, the retort gases are channeled to fire the rocket stove after startup to keep the process going. Extra gases are routed to start the next retort/rocket stove, and they can collect the volatiles as well.

They are not making use of the extra heat, but they are burning the exhaust, and using the retort gases to make the thing very efficient. You just need some wood to light and a small bed of coals to light the retort gases. Retorts produce more than enough gases to heat themselves once they get going, so the extra gas could be used for another process, like heating water, refrigeration, drying wood, etc.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZD6hrVhZGc

If they added some mass around the thing to store heat from a greenhouse, or heat water for an aquaculture tank, that would be even better. I do really like the rocket stove heating the retort design, as it seems to be the most efficient.
 
Abe Connally
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Here's another rocket retort powered by the gases and also routing the extra gas to a burner: http://www.carbon-negative.us/burners/backtap.htm

Hotdogs, anyone?
 
erich Knight
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The cutting edge Pyro/Catalytic Biochar technology is just too good to be true, However Google, General electric, British Petroleum & Conoco Phillips do.
For a full summary of where the Biochar platform for bioenergy & nutrient integration, here is my presentation at the last US Biochar Conference in Sonoma California;

Carbon Conservation for Home, Health, Energy & Climate
http://2012.biochar.us.com/299/2012-us-biochar-conference-presentations


Complementary to my focus on animal feed supplements as practiced by the European and Japanese companies, here is this first in vivo study by Dr.Leng in Australia. This Black Revolution for agriculture could be fermented by our livestock. In the EU, 90% of the Biochar produced is passed through livestock before composting and field application.
Dr. Preston and Dr. Ron Leng have been conducting experiments wherein a 0.64% rice hull biochar (DM basis) was incorporated into cattle feed as a means of reducing enteric methane emissions and enhancing feed conversion. They discovered that biochar reduced methane production by as much as 22%. When nitrate was added to the biochar, the total reduction in methane was 41%. And listen to this: animal weight gain increased by an unbelievable 25%! No doubt, this has to be one the greatest advances in bovine nutrition in the last few decades.
http://www.lrrd.org/public-lrrd/proofs/lrrd2411/leng24199.htm

Also to your interest, the Iwamoto company (SuperStoneClean) has been doing soil remediation in Fukushima Japan, concentrating the cesium to magnetic ash. Additionally, the video below, shows their work in remediating salt damage from the tsunami itself.
Fields Flourish Again
A company in Gifu prefecture has developed a machine that's helping with the recovery of agriculture in Japan's northeast.
http://www.jibtv.com/video/video6.html?n=0

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. They claim that the price of production, from field to tank is $1.25/gallon.

If it's good enough for Google… It's good enough for me;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkYVlZ9v_0o
 
Dale Hodgins
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I see bio-char headed in five different directions at once.

1. There's researchers who should be able to give us some firm scientific results on crop yeilds and other soil issues.

2. There's companies and individuals who hope to make their fortunes through grants and other government funded stuff based on carbon sequestration, global warming...

3. Some just want to sell the latest retort.

4. Then there are thousands of enthusiasts. Some of these people have bought in so hard that no figure for yeild improvement is too high to be credible, no amount of work too much. They're going to save the world unless they manage to poison themselves with creosote in the process.

5. Some guys just want to make some charcoal.

The only reason I'm even considering messing with charcoal is that I have this huge resource of low grade waste at my disposal. If it was a giant pile of free oak, I'd be milling, selling firewood and building hugelkultur mounds, not cooking it. The evidence for the usefulness of hugelkultur in my climate far exceeds any that I've seen on the usefulness of bio-char. The fact is that the many uses of the volatile gasses are probably the most valuable to me if charcoal is made from the cedar waste, next would be the larger lump charcoal which I'd try to market to blacksmiths, cooks and black powder enthusiasts.
Finally, all of the sawdust and bark and other unsaleable bits left behind is my bio-char. It will probably weigh 5% as much as the original feed stock. Remember that we're down to 20% after the gassification process. So for me, The giant pile of cedar waste is a source of wood gas. Fiddling with this stuff without making use of 80% of the product would be silly. Fiddling with it and allowing it to drift over to the neighbours is shameful. Stop it if you've already begun.
 
Dale Hodgins
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An exhaustive search has turned up few examples of brick or clay retorts. Almost everything is made of metal and uninsulated. Metal allows heat to escape and it corrodes when exposed to the hot chemical stew of the pyrolysis process. Firebricks would make better insulators and they resist corrosion. There are many examples of wood fired pottery kilns which have stood the test of time. An earthen kiln is bound to require less maintenance and less feed wood to power the process. The addition of a rocket feed, should improve them.

Brick and clay kilns are heavy and not portable. They can also take a few days to cool down which might spoil some of the fun for those who must view results immediately.

This link shows some old British and U.S. Beehive kilns. Notice that most are in treeless environments. That is a major side effect of reckless charcoal production worldwide. http://www.aditnow.co.uk/community/viewtopic.aspx?t=3911 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I just read this other thread and there were some good ideas in it. Rocket stove or gasifier + biochar? http://www.permies.com/t/17045/stoves/Rocket-stove-gasifier-biochar
 
Abe Connally
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I think most people don't use firebricks because they are expensive. Check out the links I showed above, there are some insulated retorts.

Earthen kilns are good, but they take a lot of energy to get up to temperature, so use more energy. Google the Adam Retort to see an brick design that claims 40% efficiency.

It will probably weigh 5% as much as the original feed stock. Remember that we're down to 20% after the gassification process.

Most decent retorts produce 30-40% char by weight. Some even get to 50%.

The key to efficient char production is an insulated retort, efficient heating for that retort (rocket stove with pyrolysis gas feed), and making use the extra pyrolysis gases. The video and the link I posted above address these issues, and I imagine they are achieving 40% or better char production.
 
Wayne Newton
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What if you take your typical rocket mass heater design, with the 55 gallon drum, and put an oven on top (air tight of course) for making charcoal? I hear the temps can reach 900F. The oven gasses could be piped back into the rocket stove inlet making it more efficient. What is the possibility of explosion when working with syngas?
 
Abe Connally
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What if you take your typical rocket mass heater design, with the 55 gallon drum, and put an oven on top (air tight of course) for making charcoal? I hear the temps can reach 900F. The oven gasses could be piped back into the rocket stove inlet making it more efficient. What is the possibility of explosion when working with syngas?

that's basically what the rocket retorts I linked to above are doing.

Explosion risk is low because you are not storing up any amount of the gas.
 
erich Knight
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My favorite simple TLUDs & retorts, for Home Made, Low Tech, Clean Biochar;

The extremely simple bucket in a bucket system;
http://holon.se/folke/carbon/simplechar/simplechar.shtml

The Jolly Roger Oven, a hybrid TLUD driven retort;
JRO; TLUD / Retort hybrid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg95KYrH8PI

BioChar Producing BBQ Grill, produced by the company Chip Energy in Illinois;
http://www.chipenergy.com/
 
Dale Hodgins
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Abe Connally wrote:I think most people don't use firebricks because they are expensive. Check out the links I showed above, there are some insulated retorts.

Earthen kilns are good, but they take a lot of energy to get up to temperature, so use more energy. Google the Adam Retort to see an brick design that claims 40% efficiency.

Dale here- Something's gone wrong with the colour
The Adam kiln seems to work well. In searching out possible markets, I discovered that blacksmiths, cooks and firearms people want highly carbonated charcoal. Many makers stop the process prematurely in order to get more weight. Wood is about 50% carbon to begin with. When cooked it gives off methane and carbonmonoxide with small amounts of alcohol, kerosene and other carbon compounds. All of these chip away at the carbon yeild. Hydrogen is also a component of these compounds but it is the lightest of elements. From wikipedia concerning biochar- "Residues of incomplete organic pyrolysis, e.g., from cooking fires,..... In general, pyrolysis of organic substances produces gas and liquid products and leaves a solid residue richer in carbon content, char. Extreme pyrolysis, which leaves mostly carbon as the residue, is called carbonization."

The yeild definately goes down when complete carbonization is achieved. According to literature on biochar's benefits, greater carbonization improves the structure for holding nutrients. For me, the small, unmarketable stuff is what I would use as char. I'd like to sell the lumps, so 5% might be generous. Most of what I'm seeing being done I would label fiddling.
 
Abe Connally
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I know that traditional biochar would not have had severe carbonization. They made it in pits, and it it was slow and low.
 
Peter Hartman
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I have been contemplating (and experimenting) making charcoal for years. Indirect charcoal is the best for high quality cooking/fuel charcoal. The best I have done so far is a 1.5 gallon popcorn tin tossed in a bonfire.

The most common design I have seen so far is the 30 gallon drum in the 55 gallon drum design.

http://www.nakedwhiz.com/makinglump.htm





The goal in making indirect charcoal is to heat the chunks of wood in a low oxygen invironment so that you are left with nearly pure carbon. The nice thing about the design above is that it is made from cheap and easy to find materials. The problem I see with these designs is that there are several key areas that they could be made more efficient. The off gassing of the charcoal has a lot of energy in it. running a pipe down from the top of the charcoal container to the bottom will allow this gas to be burned and aid in the making of the charcoal.



I also think that much of the burn is happening in the upper part of the barrel and even the stove pipe. Skip to the 4 minute mark to see what I mean:



So this is what I have come up with so far. Please critique.



I have a propane tank in there for 2 reasons. 1 the steel is a good amount thicker than a 30 gallon barrel so it should last a bit longer. Also propane tanks are easier to find around here than 30 gallon barrels.
 
Richard Wood
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Ive utilized alot. But misses got burnt. Had to kick stove outside
 
Russell Davis
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Fiddling with it and allowing it to drift over to the neighbours is shameful. Stop it if you've already begun. [/b]

Fiddling is unavoidable if you have any learning curve to travel. No fiddling = No progress. To avoid offending your neighbors with the inevitable physical manifestations of transient brain farts and the error the goes with trial-and-error and even a well tuned system's start-up I find that a propane torch weeder fired in my smokey exhaust stream gives a tertiary burn of my smoke while adding to my work output. Using the 55,000BTU torch for system start-up also makes my start-up brief. And for many reasons I usually start-up around sunset.
 
leila hamaya
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this all seems unnecessarily complicated to me.
the bio char i use is all the bits that are left after a fire in a simple fire pit, burning the waste paper/cardboard at the same time. whatever is left as chunks after it is put out by the water hose, is what i can use as bio char. also the chunks at the bottom of the wood stove. combined with compost/ fresh wood chips/etc i put this on the bottom and edges of the garden beds.

maybe theres some complicated system that makes some idealized perfected version of bio char, or i am missing some good reason for all the fuss, but i think this works as well as anything.

lately i am thinking to make biochar right on top of the new beds i am making. take all the paper and cardboard waste and pile it on top of the new garden beds, light it and let the fire go for a while and then put it out with tons of water. then start adding the compost/straw/leaves/manure/soil layers on top of the whole thing. actually i might do this =) ever easier than a fire pit cause i wouldnt have to wheelbarrow stuff around.

sometimes the easy way is the way to go, me thinks.
 
Peter Hartman
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leila hamaya wrote:this all seems unnecessarily complicated to me.
the bio char i use is all the bits that are left after a fire in a simple fire pit, burning the waste paper/cardboard at the same time. whatever is left as chunks after it is put out by the water hose, is what i can use as bio char. also the chunks at the bottom of the wood stove. combined with compost/ fresh wood chips/etc i put this on the bottom and edges of the garden beds.

maybe theres some complicated system that makes some idealized perfected version of bio char, or i am missing some good reason for all the fuss, but i think this works as well as anything.

lately i am thinking to make biochar right on top of the new beds i am making. take all the paper and cardboard waste and pile it on top of the new garden beds, light it and let the fire go for a while and then put it out with tons of water. then start adding the compost/straw/leaves/manure/soil layers on top of the whole thing. actually i might do this =) ever easier than a fire pit cause i wouldnt have to wheelbarrow stuff around.

sometimes the easy way is the way to go, me thinks.


That is a fine if the only purpose is to mix into your garden beds. Do get a truly high grade cooking/edible product you will need to do something different.
 
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