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What counts as biochar? Can it have a toxic base?

 
Fred Neecha
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Biochar noob here...

I've got lots of old papers and documents that need to be burned. Some even have laminate-type material. Can I burn this stuff down real well and use it? I've done this with stuff in the past and I found tiny mushrooms fruiting from it later. Would it be wise to use "biochar" like this from a potentially toxic base?

Thanks in advance.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Making biochar is about like making wine... If you start with nasty tasting fruit, you get nasty tasting wine.

If you start with materials that have heavy metals in them, then the biochar will have heavy metals in it. If a material is of unknown composition, then I don't normally add it to my garden. If I can tell that something is a specific part of a specific species of plant or animal, then it's welcomed into my garden. But materials of indeterminable origin and chemical composition are not. I don't even allow things like compost, sewer sludge, or manure... Cause I don't know where they came from and what else has been added to them.



 
Fred Neecha
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So I was looking at some other posts on how paper is a potential poison in our gardens. It spurred me on to do some research into what laminate is made of. Apparently PTFE is made of fluorine and carbon. So... no heavy metals. Just extra fluorine, lol. I think I'm going to continue with the paper and the dyes and ink and stuff... and just remove the laminated material. I appreciate the conservatism in terms of purity of garden material, etc. but this is permaculture on a budget. I put plant material in the biochar, but as it stands right now I'm going to include the paper as well... I will just burn the heck out of it.
 
Ian Taylor
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Location: Grafton NY, 25 Miles east of Albany
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Ok, firstly don't even think of burning the laminates. PTFE is Teflon and it gives off small amounts of octafluoroisobutylene when burned, which is an extremely toxic gas, actually banned by the U.N. chemical weapons treaty. It also, more importantly will contaminate your soil with dioxins which is currently one of the biggest pollution problems in world agriculture right now. Particularly in countries where they were dumped indiscriminately all over the countryside (like we did in vietnam). Basically don't ever burn chlorinated or fluorinated plastic... the amounts will be small with what you are doing, but still, don't do it.

As far as regular printer paper, the paper itself is mostly tree fiber and clay and isn't particularly toxic... but it burns like total shit in large quantities so good luck making it do anything besides burn the outside of the stack.

As far as the ink, ink jet printer ink is alcohol based and not particularly toxic, whether it becomes that way when burned, I'm not sure, it doesn't really matter though because this is kind of stupid for other reasons. Namely that wood, what everyone else uses to make biochar is totally free. If you want charcoal then it is much easier to gather some fallen logs from a nearby forest. It is easier than your plan, and will yield infinitely more usable charcoal.
 
Matt Banchero
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You can make charcoal or carbon black...you can not make biochar. By definition biochar has to come from clean organic biomass, wood, nut shells, fruit pits, bamboo, arguably manures. The standards have been set by the international biochar initiative to prevent big moneyed interests to char all kinds of crap and sell it as biochar.

You can make carbon black, which is used in dies and as a filtration medium, from used tires (tires are loaded with carbon), but it will never be biochar.

Matt
 
After burning through the drip stuff and the french press stuff, Paul has the last, ever, coffee maker. Better living through buying less crap.
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