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Advice on Crushing Biochar

 
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John Suavecito I have been using the meat grinder. [/quote wrote:

I tried it. The char was wet from when i put out the fire in the restort. It took about a half hour to go through a 5 gallon bucket at about 90rpm as you have to trickle it in.  It stops with any brands or if you overload it and you have to grease the contact parts. But I like the consistency of it as it is like a medium sand.   If it is damp it comes out fine then it will ball up as it dries, but it breaks up easily. If it is wet, it comes out of the grinder as goo. It squeezes a lot of water out of it.  I didn't bother to sift out any of the ash first. It is straight from the retort.

 
pollinator
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Add me to the list of people that run over the charcoal with a pickup truck.  I put it in a bag and run over it a few times.  The plywood idea is interesting, I may try that and see if it works as well or better than the "charcoal in a bag" method.  I mix mine with my compost as I am making it to inoculate some of it.  In new areas I am starting, I broad fork the area and spread charcoal around.  Some stays on the surface of the ground and lots falls into the holes left by the broad fork.  I spread compost and wood chips after.  I usually don't have enough.  My thinking is that the charcoal will help drainage and sooner or later will be inoculated.  When I plant, I use more compost, but it's possible the charcoal can cause a nutrient suck for some period of time. If it takes a couple years to reach full production, I can live with that.
 
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Here in the PNW, it's dry as a bone in summer. I'm finally getting a good timing pattern on this.  I cut the wood during the summer, fall, winter mostly, especially when it's in a dry window to prevent entrance of disease.  Then when summer starts, (June), I fire up my first biochar burn, because it's dry enough to burn efficiently and the wood I cut is internally dried out.  After each burn, I put it in between panels of plywood as I've been explaining.  During the wet part of the year, I urinate in the yard, because it's wet enough to be diluted. In summer, it's too dry to urinate directly on the plants.  Then I have the biochar, mostly in 5 gallon buckets.  I put compost on top first, then worm"castings".  Then I urinate on them so there is rich fertilizer inoculating the biochar for a few months while it is dry out in the yard.  When the rains start to come, usually October,  the soil gets wet enough, that I can dig out a ring around the drip line easily in soggy soil to not tear up the roots.  I put in the biochar just after the rain, going down 4-8 inches or so with the inoculated crushed biochar.  When it dries out, I wait until the next rain.  We have normally acidic soil, so I am starting with the most alkaline soil friendly trees in my food forest. Currently they are pie cherry, persimmon, and Asian plum.  I do that until I'm done with that summers' biochar.  Then I start again the next summer.

John S
PDX OR
 
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If the immersion blender would be okay, a kitchen blender would probably be able to handle more, and faster.  You can often find used ones at thrift shops for just a few dollars (mine was $4).

The removable pitcher holds about a quart+.  

Half fill the pitcher with water, and add some biochar.  If the char is dry, it will just sit on the top.  Put the lid on, push the button for a medium grind.  Run for about 10 seconds, check the level (the dry char is now wet, suspended in the water).  If there's room, add another scoop of char and repeat.  I can usually add three or four scoops before I have to dump it.

When the pitcher is fairly full, you can either dump the whole batch (liquid and all) into a bucket, or you can strain it through some mesh (I used aluminum window screening), and then return the black liquid to the pitcher and add more water to bring it up to the halfway level, and repeat the process.

These blenders were built to be used with liquids, and aren't intended for grinding dry materials.  You can try it, of course, but be prepared for the motor to burn out.

Yes, it does take time to do a larger batch, but there are a few advantages:

* You don't have to manually grind it except to get it into a reasonable size to fit into the pitcher.

* The amount of char dust floating around is minimal.

* You don't have to fight to get the char moistened, as the whirling process does it very nicely.

* Now that it's thoroughly moistened, you can easily mix in your additives: compost, worm tea, sea minerals, urine, etc.

* Since it's electric, you can sit in the shade in the heat of the day, just scooping, adding water, and dumping, but you're still accomplishing something useful without excessive exertion.

DON'T TRY TO DO IT WITHOUT THE LID! ..... And we don't need to get into how I know this...
 
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Has anyone ever tried something along these lines? https://www.amazon.com/Ultra-Dura-Grinder-Kneader-110-volt/dp/B00AFR0ILE/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=wet+grinder&qid=1567632735&s=home-garden&sr=1-4

It seems like it would be simple to make if you weren't making it for use with food.  Some ferrocement for the rollers, a steel bucket for the chamber. It could even be run by pedal power if need be.

Opinions?
 
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Here is my current solution:





The surface is four 90x45 cm concrete pavers with fenceposts for containment. If I make another one of these (I spent a couple of months looking for a lawn roller in the area but no luck -- people give them away all the time) I'll make sure that the axle is centred properly so that my scraper makes consistent contact with the roller. When the material is damp it tends to stick to the surface and build up, making the contact patch less effective.

Technique is bog simple: Spread the chunks out on the pavers, roll a couple of times, scoop up and sieve out the fines. Lather, rinse, repeat. I tend to start off with pieces up 6-8 cm in at least one dimension. After four passes I've usually reduced everything to 5mm or less. And the best part is that the occasional rock (or big chunk of torrefied wood impersonating a rock) does not ruin my day or break any machinery. I just throw it off to the side and keep rolling.

When I scale up operations to the point that I need to mechanise the grading process, I think an old road roller will be the ticket.
 
John Suavecito
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Ellendra-that's a really intriguing idea.  It could be really convenient if it works.  I love how people are all spontaneously trying things and seeing how they work.
It is one of the most expensive options I've seen.  Since it's probably not designed for biochar, I'd hate to see it break in a month and void the warranty.  I would love to hear how it works.

John S
PDX OR
 
Sue Monroe
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Phil, that is both brilliant and quite simple.  What is the roller made of?
 
Phil Stevens
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That's concrete, Sue. Plain old ready-mix, cast in a rubbish tin.
 
Sue Monroe
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Well, that should certainly give it enough weight to be useful!
 
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Any other nifty (and economical) ways of grinding large amount of biochar?  I am looking for ways to produce several tons...
 
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Im still struggling with ginding an efficient grinding method and haven't had the time to build anything myself yet.

I've recently tried a hammer mill and the issue was that the char is still to wet and now in winter, which is my main production period, I struggle to dry it out.

I make char in two ways, outdoor in a large trough kiln and indoors in TLUD'S using stove pellets. The latter produces char that crushes easily and I'm going to make a small roller crush for that similar to a grape crusher.
 
John Suavecito
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I haven't found anything easier than driving over it when I place it between two panels of plywood in the driveway. You definitely hear the crunch as you roll over it. I will often crunch it several times each time I drive somewhere.  After a week, I can usually remove the more crunched part, and crunch it again for a week.  Very easy and efficient for my home suburban garden.  Might not be enough volume for a real farmer on lots of acres, though.
John S
PDX OR
 
Phil Stevens
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Gray, I outgrew the roller and pavers. I was in the process of talking to a Chinese manufacturer of flail mills for crushing charcoal when I had a stroke of luck. Through a chain of serendipitous connections, I scored a machine that was originally built to crush glass bottles and then did a tour of duty pulverising volcanic scoria. It is awesome...a 5 HP three phase motor driving a pair of 300 mm steel rollers. One of the drums is mounted on preloaded springs so that if a rock or chunk of unburnt wood gets in there, it doesn't jam up the works.



I can do a trailer load (approximately half a cubic metre) in about 20 minutes feeding it a shovelful at a time, and if I can rig up a conveyor or auger feed that will give me at least 2-3 times the throughput. The finished product is a blend of flnes up to 5mm chunks and flakes, an ideal range of sizes for potting mixes and incorporation into soil. I take each load of crushed material, fill a wool fadge with it, and pour several buckets of dilute aerated manure and seawees tea over it to inoculate.

As I continue scaling up operations, this machine is looking like it will be a massive time saver. I was incredibly lucky to have it find me. I met an engineer and fellow biochar enthusiast back in the spring who had just built a similar rig and was getting the same sort of results. Wouldn't be too hard to fab something like this if you have (or know someone who has) welding and fabrication chops.

 
Martijn Macaopino
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That's awesome Phil!
 
pollinator
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I sidestepped the problem by adapting the way I did my burns. My current systems - using a trench and a really hot fire that gets continually fed for an hour or so, tends to make fine and crumbly char. Typically about 5 to 10mm across.  I get a few partially burnt ends, but they get chucked in to start the next batch off.

5 to 10mm size works great for me; i use it directly as a part of my diy potting mixes, and when mulching the garden.  We have also got chickens more recently too, so now my biochar gets chucked in to their deep litter woodchip run and they incorporate it into the litter where it gets broken down further and inoculated.

The combination of a more aggressive charring system and chickens makes this a complete non-issue. I much prefer, in a general sense, a solution that side steps rather than solves a problem.
 
Martijn Macaopino
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I totally agree Micheal and that's mostly my approach with the biochar that I use myself as well but to sell it I want it to be <3mm because not everyone has livestock to do the work for them.
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