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Biochar as the ultimate panacea for the industrial era

 
Landon Sunrich
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A 30 minute rundown of the 2012 US Biochar Conference. This industry aims to replace the fossil fuel industry as well as the fertilizer industry. They claim that by charring crop residues one acre of productive land can be turned into two acres of productive land within 8 years. They also state that if 3 percent of the world arable land was used in a char rotation 100 ppm of Carbon could be taken out of the atmosphere within 40 years. The aim to accomplish this with mobile production units which can char on site, capture gas, and leave the inoculated char behind. For those interested:



I personally want to here more from the kid at the end who talks about the structural component of the material used and how it relates to how the char functions once introduced into the soil. He suggests that because you are keeping the carbon structure of the original biota they continue to function as the original specimen. Ie things which are porous and which are evolved (or designed.... whatever...) for capillary action will function as the best storage of water once charred. I am going to try to track down a full version of his talk
 
John Elliott
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I'm going to have to disagree with the speaker and say that industry will NOT get us out of this problem. For them to produce all that biochar, they will want to sell it, to make a profit on it. Consume energy as a 'cost of production' in making it. No, if it is left to industry, they will find a way to fuck it up and externalize their costs and pollution.

Biochar has to become an instinctive way of farming. The way that plowing fields is instinctive among subsistence farmers the world over. If farmers the world over can learn no-till and the use of biochar to replace their current knowledge base of plowing and chemical application, that will be the way to solve the problems of the industrial era.
 
Abe Connally
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I haven't watched the video, it is too long for my crappy internet.

I like the concept of biochar, but the practical application, especially for small holders (the majority of land management in the world), is difficult to be efficient. The low labor methods of producing biochar waste a considerable amount of energy and biomass. The high tech methods are also high labor and require vast amounts of time, monitoring, and management. Production of biochar in central facilities makes the process more efficient, but adds transportation and production costs.

There's also a question of where do the nutrient components come from. You still have to charge the char with nutrients, and a great deal can be from one-farm sources like animal wastes, but I doubt most farms will have enough nutrients and biomass to make biochar for their needs.

At the end of the day, it's just easier for farmers to compost, hugle, or burn biomass than make biochar from it. It's a good idea on paper, but it's hard to make it work at scale in the real world.
 
John Elliott
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Abe Connally wrote:
At the end of the day, it's just easier for farmers to compost, hugle, or burn biomass than make biochar from it. It's a good idea on paper, but it's hard to make it work at scale in the real world.


Abe, I'm going to have to twist your arm on this one until you come around. It IS worth the effort for small landholders, and it's not that difficult once you know how. Part of the academic research into biochar is geared toward showing how small landholders can increase their yields and decrease their vulnerability to drought through the use of biochar. And if you are going to burn biomass to clear a field, you're 90% of the way to turning it into biochar. All you have to do is quench the fire at the right time and voila! there's your biochar. Shovel some manure on the pile of biochar and leave it out in the rain for a couple of months, and that takes care of the nutrient factor.

If you're not making use of biochar, you owe it to yourself to try it. Especially since you say you are in the Chihuahua desert. You've got plenty of mesquite to turn into char, and every bit of it will be of value in helping you manage your limited amount of water.

Try it, you'll like it!
 
Abe Connally
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John, I hope you can show me enough to convince me!

It's not about being difficult, it's about being labor and energy intensive, and inefficient at smaller scales to produce. I'm not arguing that biochar can be beneficial to crops/soil/etc. I'm arguing that the production process is not practical for small holders, mainly because the labor and time investment doesn't pay off very well (compared to using that biomass for other things, like compost, vermicompost, animal feed, hugelculture, mulch, etc). Centralizing the process can gain in efficiency, but adds considerable energy, and cost, in transport and processing.

Burning biomass in a field vs producing biochar is very different. One requires lighting a match. The other (biochar) requires infrastructure, material gathering, monitoring, etc. And then you have to take the resulting char and charge it with nutrients. I don't burn nor recommend burning biomass in fields, and prefer composting or burying biomass (when animal feed is not needed)

We don't have mesquite here, unfortunately (they are around in this region, but not in my immediate area). We have several juniper species and a few invasives, like Tree of Heaven, that can be used. Down in the river valley, there's some more options. But, we can't really afford to cut the trees we have, as there is very little tree cover as it is. The best we can do is with pruning, and gather crop and weed materials, though lots of that stuff is used for animal feed.

I've researched and made lots of biochar. The problem I have with it, is that the low-labor methods (pit or pile methods) are extremely wasteful (2/3 or more of the biomass is used in the process). If you make a kiln, then you increase the labor required (chopping, loading, crushing, etc), and you still have a lot of energy that is wasted (50%). If you set up systems to use the waste heat (water heating, greenhouse, etc), then that is a bit better, but you really need to be producing char on a regular basis to use this energy effectively.

I haven't seen any tests where biochar is compared to just burying biomass in terms of water and nutrient retention. But, I would imagine that the raw wood does just as well as the char. And lb for lb, you get more material by just burying the wood, because you lose so much in the char process.

I'd appreciate some information that can show a different result or situation than I am describing, but my experience has led me to the conclusion that the amount of energy, labor, and effort is not worth the eventual product, because there's no (or negligible) gain over using raw biomass.

 
Abe Connally
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John Elliott wrote:Shovel some manure on the pile of biochar and leave it out in the rain for a couple of months, and that takes care of the nutrient factor.

what's this "rain" thing you speak of?

I kid...

But, I wonder, is it more effective to char the biomass, and then mix with the manure, or just mix the manure with the raw biomass and compost it?
 
Landon Sunrich
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John Elliott wrote: No, if it is left to industry, they will find a way to fuck it up and externalize their costs and pollution.


I have nothing to add to that, I just thought it bared repeating.

As far as making it efficient for small holders especially in the under developed (I actually hate that term, but a better on is alluding me) it seems to me like THE solution. The simplest and best there is. See cooking stoves are a HUGE problem in the world. Air pollution accounts for around 1 in 8 deaths in the world. Of these deaths around half of them are from indoor pollution due to indoor cooking fires. LA Times article on this here.

Now luckily for everyone everywhere Gasifying cook stoves are extremely easy to make and can be made out of the surplus from very basic necessity items: Large cans of cooking lard, oil drum, pretty much anything that is made of steel and tubular can be stacked inside each other to make a IDD. In fact it would be quite easy to replace the Logo-rific Label on all cans over say 50 oz with visual instructions on how to make one with no tools other than a Knife. This technology could be deployed incredible quickly with anything approaching a real push for it from the powers that be. They are a more efficient, much much cleaner way of burning and when capped after the gas burn instead of being allowed to smolder the result is char. It would be quite easy for a village to save and pool their char waste from cooking, combined it with their compost - or even *gasp* their latrine which isn't busy mixing potable water with shit and build soils on the spot for their communities. 3 months of everyone's char on this field, then 3 months of everyone's char on that field.

Done.

Problem solved.

Abe Connally wrote: But, I wonder, is it more effective to char the biomass, and then mix with the manure, or just mix the manure with the raw biomass and compost it?


Don't know, but... Char is going to stay in the soil for decades upon decades if not thousands of years. If it looses charge it is able to recharge. Perhaps simply by letting the area go fallow for a season and then mob grazing it. Also making compost is work. Char is a byproduct of cooking and does not require the extra work step. I'm all about more leisure time.
 
John Elliott
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Abe Connally wrote:
I haven't seen any tests where biochar is compared to just burying biomass in terms of water and nutrient retention. But, I would imagine that the raw wood does just as well as the char. And lb for lb, you get more material by just burying the wood, because you lose so much in the char process.


I'm going to be on the lookout for those studies. The big advantage of making it into char is that char doesn't decompose in one season. When you add biochar to soil, it holds soil moisture and nutrients and provides a home to soil microbes for a long time, centuries according to the studies. When I look at how fast biomass decomposes where I am, I am motivated to add soil amendments that are going to stick around for a while.
 
Landon Sunrich
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John, I'm sure you are beyond these types of talks and are actually reading the papers the data comes from, but for the rest of us here is a an hour webinar by USDA soil scientist Kurt Spokas entitled 'Bio-char: the science behind the hype'



I'll browse through my watch history a bit, I know there's some good info out there
 
Abe Connally
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Landon Sunrich wrote:As far as making it efficient for small holders especially in the under developed (I actually hate that term, but a better on is alluding me) it seems to me like THE solution. The simplest and best there is. See cooking stoves are a HUGE problem in the world. Air pollution accounts for around 1 in 8 deaths in the world. Of these deaths around half of them are from indoor pollution due to indoor cooking fires. LA Times article on this here.


The problem in a lot of places is that they aren't really using wood for cooking, maybe space heating. People use gas (propane). Here in Mexico, wood is used some, but it's in big enclosed wood stoves. Granted, there is a bit of char leftover from these, but it's mostly ash. Switching these stoves to a biochar producer could definitely help to produce more char, but I imagine that you will meet resistance, because people are used to, and have used, the same technology for generations (cast iron cook stoves).

In my house, we have a rocket mass heater and passive solar for space heating, solar for heating water, and gas for cooking. So, there's not a lot of room to incorporate char in those processes. We produce a bit of char each year, maybe enough to fill a small bucket, and I do use it in the garden, but it's not nearly enough to even notice, much less produce an effect.

It would be quite easy for a village to save and pool their char waste from cooking, combined it with their compost - or even *gasp* their latrine which isn't busy mixing potable water with shit and build soils on the spot for their communities.
this is the only way I can see it actually working, but the reality is that there are few villages that would be able to make that switch. I doubt many would change from gas to cooking with char, and to switch people from water toilets to composting toilets is an uphill battle (I use a compost toilet, and have tried, unsuccessfully, to convert my neighbors for years). If a village was already using wood in a way that could be easily switched to char, then it could work, but I think you'll find those types of villages fairly rare.

Don't know, but... Char is going to stay in the soil for decades upon decades if not thousands of years.
theoretically. That may or may not be the case, and certainly won't be the same in all climates. In my climate, buried wood, and even coarse mulch lasts many years. You still need to add nutrients to keep it charged, even if the carbon itself doesn't break down.

Also making compost is work.
around here, we let animals make compost, so it's not much work.

So, for me to get biochar, I have to char wood. And that's where the inefficiencies and labor and everything else I mentioned comes into play. If you already have char, by all means, put it on your soil.
 
Abe Connally
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John Elliott wrote:When you add biochar to soil, it holds soil moisture and nutrients and provides a home to soil microbes for a long time, centuries according to the studies.

The char itself will remain, but the nutrients have to be replaced, if they are being used up.

Still, if you consider that char is at most, 1/3 of the material of the original wood, you need to consider that you need 3 times the material to convert to char as just incorporating it directly. Some methods of making char (pit, TLUD, etc) are even less efficient, so you may bee looking at needing 4-5 times the material. That's a lot of material for my climate (we don't have that much woody waste to begin with).

Your climate may decompose logs very quickly, so it's different than mine, and I'd be interested to see how long char actually lasts in your climate.
 
Abe Connally
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I want to make clear that I'm not contesting the benefits of biochar in the soil. I have seen that myself with my own tests, and it has a profound effect on soil and plants.

My issue is the production of biochar, and how in many climates, it may not make sense to make char out of woody material, and just bury or use it directly.

If someone came up with a low-labor method to produce char at a high efficiency, while able to capture or use the excess heat effectively, it would make the char process worthwhile (like the cook stove example discussed previously). If you had another use for the char, like animal bedding or sewage filtration, then again, it tips the balance in favor of biochar.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Abe Connally wrote: this is the only way I can see it actually working, but the reality is that there are few villages that would be able to make that switch. I doubt many would change from gas to cooking with char, and to switch people from water toilets to composting toilets is an uphill battle (I use a compost toilet, and have tried, unsuccessfully, to convert my neighbors for years). If a village was already using wood in a way that could be easily switched to char, then it could work, but I think you'll find those types of villages fairly rare.


There are many villages which still use wood as their primary fuel. I had a friend who spent several years in West Africa trying to get them to manage their wood lots in a sustainable way. increasing burn efficiency and building soil in these often critical (rapidly drying/becoming deforested) lands could be absolutely critical. I agree that it would be a bit of an uphill battle in much of the developed world -but in the areas which are experiencing 4 million deaths a year due to indoor cooking fires It seems to me like an easy sell - "here this knowledge will cost you virtually nothing to make a stove which is 10 x cleaner, 4x more efficient, and produces awesome fertilizer" And it is a switch that could be made quickly. With 4 million deaths per year associated with indoor wood cook fires I think it is safe to assume that many times as many people rely on this as their primary means of cooking. For instance according to this IEA publication on cooking it states that 33 percent of Thailand's house hold energy comes from biomass. The population of Thailand is approximately 67 million people. This is just one country. So I must respectfully disagree with your assertion that those who can benefit from these simple easily available and implemented technologies are a rare.
 
Abe Connally
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Landon Sunrich wrote:So I must respectfully disagree with your assertion that those who can benefit from these simple easily available and implemented technologies are a rare.

The people who can benefit are not rare, the actual villages you will be able to convert to char producers in a reasonable amount of time with little to no investment will be rare. Biomass is used for energy all over the world, but not necessarily as open indoor fires that are causing death. Is that enough to cover "3 percent of the world arable land"?

It seems like the video posted above and other initiatives are going beyond the "indoor open fire" crowd. If you're already cooking with wood, that's great, put it on your garden and crops. But, I don't think that's what we are talking about.

The OP says:
The aim to accomplish this with mobile production units which can char on site, capture gas, and leave the inoculated char behind


To me that implies production units making char specifically for the purpose of making char, not indoor cooking units. And in cases like that, where char is the primary output, I don't find it to be worth the investment compared to using biomass in other ways. Maybe it's best for wet climates or specific situations, that can't use biomass in other ways.

Besides cooking to produce char, what are some other ways of production that are efficient and scalable?
 
Landon Sunrich
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Yeah sorry I didn't mean to pick a fight, but I'm going to maintain there could be quick rapid transition in the poorest areas of the world with just a little bit of leadership and impetuous. For some reason I have that scene from Apollo 13 in my head where Ed Harris dump a box full of random parts out on the table for the egg head and tells them - look you've got to make an air filter out of this. I just think we have all the necessary goods and distribution systems already in place to solve these cooking/soil fertility problems once and for all. I mean this is a good 10 - 20 percent of the world we're talking about here.

As far as scaling up I think mobile production units charring crop residue, wind fall, et all is actually a pretty good model to follow. I could see farm consortiums (I dare not call them 'collectives') purchasing them in common, or perhaps a private start-up business arising to char the farmers crop residues for soil amendments and selling them the syngas back to run their tractors. It seems like this does scale pretty well to contemporary industrial methods to me. It'd be a good first step in my thinking.

Here is a farm in N. Carolina which is producing char on sight and capturing as much energy from it as they can.

http://www.livingwebfarms.org/

They hosted a 5 or 6 hour biochar workshop and posted it for free on the tubes.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Also Here is an FOA report which estimates the use of wood in under-developed countries for fuel as 86 percent of total wood use in those countries. All of that wood could be charred instead and it would burn more efficiently and use less wood that way. This is primarily for food and heat. Charring it using easy technology (made simply with hand tools and steel cans) virtually eliminates the hazardous particulate which causes an estimated 4 million deaths a year. Simple solution with real benefits to several very real problems.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Alright, that last article was from the mid 70s. But This WHO report from this year (2014) estimates that 3 billion people are still reliant on wood* for their primary cooking fuel. That's nearly HALF of the WORLD. So yes - I think this can be a major deal even when implemented on as seemingly small a scale as cook stoves.


Edit:
*Dung and other biomass in open cooking fires
 
S Bengi
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Abe Connally wrote:
But, I wonder, is it more effective to char the biomass, and then mix with the manure, or just mix the manure with the raw biomass and compost it?


When you compost raw biomass, microbes eat it and release it as CO2 in 4 or so years.
So you are back where you started and you have to continually do it and hope the wind/water/etc does not take it away.

When you biochar the biomass, the microbes cannot eat it. So it is always their and the soil will increase every year.
So what will the microbes eat, they will eat manure or next year compost.
Making biochar doesn't have to be a every year thing it can be every other year or every 10 years.
Where will the nutrients come from, from the sub-soil using plants like daikon radish with it's 7ft tap root.
The mineral will then be brought up to the surface.

Why is biochar better than compost.
1lbs of Compost has "10" holes to hold "10" minerals for next season growth.
1lbs of BioChar has "1000" holes to hold "1000" minerals for next season growth.

The soil already has 100,000 mineral per lbs it is just not in a bio-available form.
BioChar and compost make it bio-available due to increase CEC
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cation-exchange_capacity

As a farmer if you have time to plow the land, then plant the seed possible water it and then, fertilize it, then weed it.
Then harvest it, process it and possible mulch it. Then you have time to bring a 50gallon barrel to make biochar.

Esp if you can grow/sell the same amount of crop in just 75% of the space.
If you can do 1 thing and do 25% less work. Then it is makes sense.
If you can do 10% more work and end up doing 25% less work every year for the next 10years then it is makes sense.
Even if it did not save you on labor, the fact that you now need 25% less land that means that you have more land to sell/rent.
If you needed to or to give to your young adult son/daughter for their family.
You dont have to make the biochar in the kitchen and use the heat to cook.
You can make the biochar right there in the field lose out on the extra heat and it would still be a win-win situation.

 
Abe Connally
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When you compost raw biomass, microbes eat it and release it as CO2 in 4 or so years.

That depends a lot on the climate. The majority of the world is drylands (like my area). I have wood buried that is still whole after a decade. I'm sure it has decomposed some, but generally, you are talking about decades for woody biomass (char material) to be composted like that.

S Bengi wrote:
As a farmer if you have time to plow the land, then plant the seed possible water it and then, fertilize it, then weed it.
Then harvest it, process it and possible mulch it. Then you have time to bring a 50gallon barrel to make biochar.

Well, if they are doing all of that stuff, they don't have any time left!

But 50 gallons of biochar wouldn't cover a very big area. What are we talking about, enough char for 100 square feet or less? And a 50 gallon batch is basically 1/2 a day devoted to making biochar (and wasting a lot of energy in the process). At that rate, the farmer would have to make char every single day of the year, and he still wouldn't have enough to cover an acre. And that doesn't include the time moving it, crushing it, charging it, burying it, etc.

If you can do 1 thing and do 25% less work. Then it is makes sense.

I agree, but first you have to show that it is 25% less work. In my experience, it is significantly more work to make biochar than to not.

You dont have to make the biochar in the kitchen and use the heat to cook.
You can make the biochar right there in the field lose out on the extra heat and it would still be a win-win situation.

why is it a win-win? I must be missing why losing 75% of the energy in the wood is a win. And making biochar in the open produces a lot of particulates, smokes, and pollution. I am not convinced char in the open like that is actually carbon neutral or negative.

And that brings up a bigger point here, to actually be doing something beneficial, you have to be charring correctly. All of the studies that show a net carbon sink with biochar are doing so with char made in retorts or efficient kilns under specific conditions. If you are producing it less efficiently, like in pits, trenches, barrels, etc, there is a good chance that you are producing MORE pollution than you are saving. The only thing that would bring that back into the "beneficial" category was if you were making use of the wasted energy. Cooking or some other process that produces energy that would otherwise require fossil or wood fuel would be required to show a net gain in carbon.
 
Abe Connally
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As far as scaling up I think mobile production units charring crop residue, wind fall, et all is actually a pretty good model to follow.

Why? Why not use those resources for animal feed or compost or biogas, instead?

Landon Sunrich wrote:selling them the syngas back to run their tractors.

How does that work? Syngas is hard/danerous to store. the only systems I have ever seen running on wood gas have been directly from the unit while in operation. So, it could possibly power the machinery that spreads the biochar, or maybe a chipper or something, but certainly nothing beyond the immediate operation.

Additionally, what about all the energy wasted in the process? At least 2/3 of the energy contained in the wood is going to the atmosphere in these portable retorts. How is that practical?

Charring it using easy technology (made simply with hand tools and steel cans) virtually eliminates the hazardous particulate which causes an estimated 4 million deaths a year. Simple solution with real benefits to several very real problems.

Only if it is charred in a retort that flares or uses the surplus syngas. Most char is not produced this way. In fact, even in the biochar arena, I often see people using open barrels, pits, trenches, etc, which produce a lot of particulates and smoke. Granted, they are not right in the house, but it's still air pollution.

Alright, that last article was from the mid 70s. But This WHO report from this year (2014) estimates that 3 billion people are still reliant on wood* for their primary cooking fuel. That's nearly HALF of the WORLD. So yes - I think this can be a major deal even when implemented on as seemingly small a scale as cook stoves.

but you are ignoring the significant obstacles to converting that many people in a reasonable time with little to no investment. I agree, there are a lot of people that use wood. But, using wood and being able to convert to char practically are 2 different things.

My local area is a perfect example. A lot of people use wood for space heating and/or cooking. But, they do so in closed stoves built specifically for wood burning. Would they trade that for a char stove? yes, some would, but definitely not all, and I'd be surprised if you could even convince a majority to switch. They might, IF the char stove was not a significant additional investment. But, where are all these wood and space heating stoves going to come from? It will take more than a TLUD from a soup can to replace wood burning stoves in my area.
 
R Scott
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Biochar vs. Hugelculture--the ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN!!!

Do I hear Paul's next Kickstarter

probably not, but it is a really good question.

There are a few problems:

1. Making it large scale cost effectively--this is both the process itself and the material handling of the feedstock.
2. Getting it inoculated and applied--this is the standard material handling problem for any compost or manure on a farm. It takes a lot of fuel to do it, even with the right tools.
3. There just isn't enough to go around if it ever did get to gain mainstream acceptance.

I am using it in zone 1 gardens and square foot beds and indoor production, but not going to happen in the broadacre for a while.

I hope to get it figured out so I can apply it at the same time as keylining or overseeding. I think you can biocharge the ripline with a relatively small amount of char and compost, but it is still a huge material handling problem.
 
Abe Connally
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Landon Sunrich wrote:
Here is a farm in N. Carolina which is producing char on sight and capturing as much energy from it as they can.

http://www.livingwebfarms.org/

They hosted a 5 or 6 hour biochar workshop and posted it for free on the tubes.

I'm not able to watch their long videos, but could you tell us what methods they are using to produce the char, and how are they making use of the wasted energy?
 
Abe Connally
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R Scott wrote:Biochar vs. Hugelculture--the ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN!!!

we've had that discussion already: http://www.permies.com/t/2366/hugelkultur/biochar-hugelkultur

There are a few problems:

1. Making it large scale cost effectively--this is both the process itself and the material handling of the feedstock.
2. Getting it inoculated and applied--this is the standard material handling problem for any compost or manure on a farm. It takes a lot of fuel to do it, even with the right tools.
3. There just isn't enough to go around if it ever did get to gain mainstream acceptance.


I think efficiency is a big thing being overlooked, as well. Most of the large-scale char production I've seen is a very polluting and inefficient process. I'm sure it COULD done in a beneficial way, but the fact is that it isn't, for the most part.

I think a more realistic approach is to find an application that currently uses fossil fuels and convert that to biomass fuel in a way that produces char as a byproduct. Wood gas for local vehicles comes to mind. Now, that's something that a LOT of people would invest in, if it could be done in a way to make it easy to use. It wouldn't produce as much char as dedicated retorts or kilns, but you'd make better use of the wasted energy.

I wonder if a true energy assessment has been done for biochar on scale? From inefficient production to considerable fuel in transport, material handling, processing, and charging, how do we know that this process is showing a net reduction in CO2? I haven't seen anyone address the whole process, just mainly the process of producing the char itself in lab conditions.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Abe Connally wrote:

I'm not able to watch their long videos, but could you tell us what methods they are using to produce the char, and how are they making use of the wasted energy?



I'll have to rewatch the videos myself to remember the exact method. Its a system with a closed sealed oven and outer burn and 3 retorts based off a hybrid of rocket technology and some form of gasifying stove which was designed for 3rd world fuel charcoal production which name escapes me. They are mostly capturing the energy as heat in water stored in two 9000 gallon steel tanks. They use this hot water to heat a bunch of buildings and greenhouses.

edited to draw a little pencil line to make an r into n
 
Abe Connally
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Landon Sunrich wrote:
Abe Connally wrote:

I'm not able to watch their long videos, but could you tell us what methods they are using to produce the char, and how are they making use of the wasted energy?



I'll have to rewatch the videos myself to remember the exact method. Its a system with a closed sealed oven and outer burn and 3 retorts based off a hybrid of rocket technology and some form of gasifying stove which was designed for 3rd world fuel charcoal production which name escapes me. They are mostly capturing the energy as heat in water stored in two 9000 gallon steel tanks. They use this hot water to heat a bunch of buildings and greenhouses.

edited to draw a little pencil line to make an r into n


is it the Adam retort?

I was able to see some photos of what looked to be a retort with an external gasifier for heat. From that, I couldn't tell what they were doing with the excess syngas or heat around the retort (it looked uninsulated from the image). Do they flare the excess volatiles?
 
Landon Sunrich
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Abe Connally wrote:

is it the Adam retort?

I was able to see some photos of what looked to be a retort with an external gasifier for heat. From that, I couldn't tell what they were doing with the excess syngas or heat around the retort (it looked uninsulated from the image). Do they flare the excess volatiles?


Not sure. I do remember them specifically saying that they insulated with 2 and a half inches of the same stuff they use for heat shielding on the space shuttle though.
 
Abe Connally
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Landon Sunrich wrote:
Not sure. I do remember them specifically saying that they insulated with 2 and a half inches of the same stuff they use for heat shielding on the space shuttle though.

ceramic?

the outside looks to be metal, I guess the insulation is on the inside.
 
gani et se
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I like biochar, though this will be my first growing season with it in place in my soil. I'm in a biochar study group. I hope to sell biochar.
I tend to be skeptical of panaceas.
I think of char as remediation. I live in the Pacific Northwe(s)t where there is a lot of logging debris, and where many monocropped tree plantations are desperately in need of thinning. That's a lot of biomass. I think some carbon sequestration could be achieved by converting a portion of it to char. John Meidema has prototyped a production system which reclaims much of the byproducts. I hope to see it developed for char production in forestry. The expectation is that some can be sold by entrepeneurs, and some returned to the forest ecosystem.
For me, as a gardener, I like small scale production. We are going to burn some of the slash piles on our place on Thursday. There will be a TLUD, and a steel ring 2 feet high and 5 feet in diameter. These will waste heat, but not produce a lot of smoke.
One of the people in the biochar study group is in the third year of growing in biochar amended soil. He says that pulling up plants is easy even in winter, definitely not the case with native soil here. I am looking forward to seeing what the char does for me.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Abe Connally wrote:
ceramic?

the outside looks to be metal, I guess the insulation is on the inside.


Yeah that super ceramic that transfers heat like mad. I remember the stuff from when I visited Cape Canaveral as a kid. From what I could see in the video walk-through it was like as if you had a box within a box. The insulation is between the two boxes. Open the lid, load the wood, close, and char.
 
Michael Cox
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There are already products out there to replace open cooking fires with bio char producing stoves. I have a couple of these from stovetec and they work a treat. The challenge is a marketing one - getting them to the people who need them and convincing them to use them, and to understand that bio char will help their soils.

I saw a proposal a few years ago for a mobile biochar gasification unit. It was on three flatbed lorry sections. Raw wood goes in one end and is pyro listed to make biochar. The gases are then cleaned and further reacted to make a liquid fuel oil - not syngas - which can be tankered away and sold for a good profit a a heating oil substitute.

Once making biochar on large scale can be made profitable (eg by selling fuel oil) we'll see serious investment in this field. The idea of a fleet of mobile units makes lots of sense because you can take the unit to the work site (eg remote woodland, scrub clearance, fire mitigation work) where as the low density low value wood would be unlikely to be valuable enough to haul any distance.

A question for John - you are a big advocate of biochar and I sense that you are making it on a reasonable scale. How do you manage the balance between time invested and char produced? I spent a day this week clearing up after a fallen tree (big and one of many) and have at least another day of labour ahead of me. Most of it is going for firewood but a lot of the brushy tops was simply burned. I've made biochar using drums before, but I would have needed 20+ batches to get through the material and at two hours or more per batch I simply can't afford that time.

I'd love a hybrid system - something I can throw big branches on as I would a bonfire, with some minimal processing perhaps. It needs to be portable enough to move by hand to the work site around our 10 acres or so and be of intermediate efficiency - better than a bonfire but without sacrificing speed. I saw a cone design which gave me some ideas.
 
Abe Connally
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gani et se wrote:John Meidema has prototyped a production system which reclaims much of the byproducts.

Do you happen to have a link or description of his system?
 
Abe Connally
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Michael Cox wrote:I saw a proposal a few years ago for a mobile biochar gasification unit. It was on three flatbed lorry sections. Raw wood goes in one end and is pyro listed to make biochar. The gases are then cleaned and further reacted to make a liquid fuel oil - not syngas - which can be tankered away and sold for a good profit a a heating oil substitute.


They were probably making it via the Fischer-Tropsch process. It is very temperature and pressure sensitive, well beyond the capabilities of a backyard or small farm project. Even the most efficient FT systems produce about 60 gallons of fuel per ton of biomass. I imagine a mobile unit would be considerably lower production rate. The problem is that when the process is optimized for liquid fuel production, the amount of char produced is reduced. Here's a chart that illustrates my point:


http://www.bioeconomyconference.org/08%20Presentations%20approved/Breakouts/Biomass%20Processing/Brown,%20Richard.pdf

As you can see, slow pyrolysis is typical of backyard/small operations when trying to produce char. Fast pyrolysis is what a fuel-oil producer will be using. By optimizing for liquid production, they will sacrifice 2/3 of the char produced. If you optimize for syngas production (gasification), you get even less char. And those values are best case scenarios, in the real world, actual yield can vary greatly:



 
Michael Cox
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Thanks Abe, that is pretty interesting.

The setup I saw was an industrial process, designed to work alongside large scale forestry projects - essentially upgrading scrap woody waste to a valuable product. These guys have to work on a massive scale and it has to bring in big money to be viable as a business. I have no objection to sacrificing some hypothetical char yield on wood that would otherwise be chipped and left to rot. In addition, fuel oil from waste streams directly replaces fossil fuels - another valuable win.

The project I saw info for was specially designed to work alongside crews maintaining fire breaks in Australia. These can be many hundreds of km from any kind of industrial facility so the mobility is vital. I don't know if it has gone any further in the year of two since I first looked into it.
 
Michael Cox
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Abe Connally
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Michael Cox wrote:The setup I saw was an industrial process, designed to work alongside large scale forestry projects - essentially upgrading scrap woody waste to a valuable product. These guys have to work on a massive scale and it has to bring in big money to be viable as a business. I have no objection to sacrificing some hypothetical char yield on wood that would otherwise be chipped and left to rot. In addition, fuel oil from waste streams directly replaces fossil fuels - another valuable win.

The project I saw info for was specially designed to work alongside crews maintaining fire breaks in Australia. These can be many hundreds of km from any kind of industrial facility so the mobility is vital. I don't know if it has gone any further in the year of two since I first looked into it.

no, I agree that for their particular situation, it may be beneficial, but the efficiency is likely low, and it's hard to gauge projects like that on their overall efficiency and fuel replacement. It takes a lot of energy, fuel, and labor to travel around doing that.

But, my point was that it's likely not practical for small holders, especially if char is the goal.

 
R Scott
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Shared mobile resource works for things like oil presses to make biofuel between farmer's coops, the same thing could work for biochar following the chipping truck for powerline maintenance and firebreak and logging cleanup. But you have to get the scale and manpower requirements in line.

 
Abe Connally
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Michael Cox wrote:http://www.slideshare.net/kelpiew/cone-kilnsm

I've seen the cone kiln a few time, it seems to be popular. Those are big yellow flames jumping up out of that thing, and in the pictures that show above the flame, there is smoke being produced. From the dimensions, it holds 50 gallons of wood. If that was packed tight, that would be 330 lbs, but it's not, so let's say 200 lbs. It yields ~35 gallons of char, which is about 60 lbs. So, it's about 30% efficient. It may be a good way to char sawdust, doing it in layers like that.

It seems to work similar to pit char, but if you could figure out a chimney (another inverted cone held above it), you could make sure the gasses are being burnt. Also, it would be nice to make use of the 70% of the energy of the wood being wasted.

The Hornito retort seemed to be the most efficient biochar making device around. It uses a rocket stove to fire the closed retort chamber, and then uses some of the gasses to keep things going. The rest of the gasses can be used for another purpose, or starting the next batch. You could probably set up a system where you have a line of hornitos running and there would be enough surplus syngas to run an engine.

 
gani et se
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I'm sorry, I have no links to John Miedema's system. One reason I like his setup is that he is using char and wood chips to fuel a flame that is fed into a retort. Some of the mobile units in existence use propane. He also is mechanizing fuel feed. The char and chips produce a flame that is fed through a flexible pipe which is inserted into another unit that is producing char and byproducts. He estimates that he is producing enough heat to run 3 chambers, but as this is a prototype, only one is being utilized.
I went to see it in person. Haven't seen anything about it online. Working with a lumber mill, IIRC.
I'll see if I can get pics tomorrow when we char using the ring of fire and the other method, which I think Jim was calling the longhouse method. Fire pictures on sunny day... we'll see. I'll see if the engineers will venture a guess as to percent of char returned.
Gani
 
R Scott
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Anybody find a good system for making char out of sawdust on a homestead/small business scale? Every system I have seen for sawdust is either REALLY small (like a handful per batch) or REALLY complicated huge industrial process.

There are a lot of small mills still around that have a huge problem dealing with all the dust. Bigger stuff they can sell or get rid of, but there is a lot of dust that they can't find a use for.
 
Daniel Clifford
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Hi R Scott,

Ok so I found a couple youtyube videos in this space, the guy is using what he calls a "hookway retort kiln" which I have no idea what that means or how it works let me know if this is close to what you were looking for.



Daniel
 
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