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Charcoal
With Maine's tough marketing conditions for forestry products, I have a bunch of unmarketable wood kicking around. By kicking around I mean its the waste wood my truck drivers have picked over and decided would not make the cut for logs. About a third of it is White Pine and would be a pain to cut, split and stack, especially in small sections enough to burn in a pot bellied stove. So....

...I was thinking, a dangerous proposition for sure, and doing a lot of research online regarding charcoal. If I took this waste wood, stacked it up with my log loader, then covered it with dirt with my bulldozer and lit it on fire, for a lot less work than what it would take to cut, split and move it, I could generate charcoal.

I got about 10 cord of the White Pine alone, and from what I can gather up, that junk wood would be about 4 tons of charcoal. Assuming charcoal is about the same heat equivalent of coal, that would enough to heat my house for the winter.

If it worked out well, maybe I could cut some Eastern Hemlock in the ensuing years and convert that to charcoal? Right now I cannot even get rid of it. Making a form of homemade coal might be the best of both worlds; using wood I have, but burning it like coal?
what about making biochar?  Or even make biochar and then make compost?

If I had a bunch of wood laying around and was suitable for biochar, I would make the biochar and charge it with natural farming inputs and makes some serious compost.

http://culturalhealingandlife.com.www413.your-server.de/index.php?/topic/50-biochar/&tab=comments#comment-102
Information regarding that.

Biochar is made cleaner than regular charcoal.
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There are many videos on YouTube about making charcoal. Its a bit more complicated than you describe, and a whole lot more work and time. More than a century ago, before electricity and coal mining came into greater use, it was a common job. Guys made money, but it was hard, dirty, dangerous and lonely. And they where thought of and treated as "lower class". ...Having said that, its something I've wanted to try just as part of the museum. It might be "fun" to give it a go, but maybe watch the videos first and do it right.
Museum of Western Reserve Farms & Equipment  www.ohiofarmmuseum.com
If you do make it into cgarcoal, there is a market for it,for cooking or gardening.
Seems like it could be well worth it.
There are commercial,towable retorts for charcoal making, im not sure of the costs,but it might pay for itself...
I looked into biochar pretty heavily, but realized it has very few benefits on my farm and might actually pollute my soil. I also looked into straight ash as a fertilizer, but the 0-1-3 NPK make-up was a little weak for my needs, requiring 156 cords of burned wood to get just the NPK requirements I would need for just (1) 15 acre field (80-40-210). My other fields are pretty good on NPK and Lime now, but will need it in the future. That means burning 156 cords of wood might be a yearly thing. I can do that sustainably forest wise, but am not sure I can justify the labor costs to do so, that is a lot of wood.

So this wood sits; not good firewood anyway because 1/3 of it is pine, another 1/3 hemlock and the other 1/3 being hardwood. The latter has some value, but a lot of work to convert to something burnable in my pot bellied stove.
Sounds like biochar would only be a commodity to trade or sell,rather than something to use.
That still leaves the potential for char for use in your stove.
Seems like something worth trying,if you have time to watch it,and the means to quench it if need be.
Selling it is a really good idea. I know there are many people around here that engage in permiculture and it could be something they need. Very interesting thought, I will have to mull this over and think of an easy way to replicate the process over and over again. I got a lot of waste wood that could be converted to biochar/charcoal.
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Selling biochar sounds like it could be a good business.  I don't know much about it but I believe you have several processes to develop. 

1.  Turning massive amounts of wood into char.  Most systems I've seen (which isn't a lot) contain the wood in a drum and then heat it externally to cook the gasses out of the wood without admitting air to the char chamber.  Doing that on a cordwood scale would be interesting.  Maybe you have a box car laying around?

2.  Crunching the chunks of char up into little bits.

3.  Inoculating it with the "bio" part of biochar.  Maybe with your sheep and other biological processes you can find a way to get nutrients into the char.  Un-inoculated char sucks up nutrients and biology until the sponge is full so it may harm gardens instead of helping them.  I don't know if making a robust sheep poop and compost tea and then soaking the char would provide it enough biology to fill the sponge?

4.  Packaging and finding a market.  Or bulk selling it to someone who does that.
Charcoal is doable but some work I helped make some a while back . Basically we stacked hard wood very tight in a kiln ( imagine an upside down pot 4 yards acros by two high with a chimney a yard above ) lit a fire inside then covered it with earth . Let it burn for three days , then let it cool and opened it up ( major health warning make sure it is cool !)
Then broke the stuff up for sale very dirty work .
The big work was the stacking and braking it up , the latter a machine such as your beloved bulldozer could do but the stacking nope .
I have used charcoal in my fire as an experiment , it worked but not worth the effort unless free I thought . It's quite messy .

David
I am kinda busy and have no funds to visit but otherwise I would love to come and make it into biochar for you!  If you was closer to about middle Pa I would do it 50/50 share and a place to stay while it was done!

hey thanks for all your thoughts on this.

David; do you think it would be possible to use my log loader to stack the logs? Also, I do have a engine powered hammermill, do you think that would aid in breaking the charcoal up mechanically? I cannot imagine doing a lot of this and doing so by hand.

I was cutting wood today and just driving around I saw how much wood is being left behind. Its not a horrible thing, it will eventually rot and provide nutrients, but biochar for sale, or charcoal for my own stove...it is an interesting thought.
Travis
I dont think so  unless you have a robot as its about burning in a reduced atmosphere . The idea is to limit the amount of burning to produce charcoal not ash . Packing the wood together as much as possible to limit the amount of air more air more burning less  product . If for instance you just cover with soil then your pile of wood collapses then lets in more air the whole thing will burn zero product . Thats one of the reasons the maker when I did it had a pan .Its also why you dont open it until cool as if hot when you let the air in the whole pile can reignite very quickly . How regular is this wood ? Not sure what a hammer mill looks like maybe we call it something else
You can see the stack here how closely it is stacked https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charcoal_burner Also I think it will need some trial and error on your part on how to manage the burning

David
Oh no, I would not use my log loader while it was burning, just to form the pile.

My wood is pretty regular, but pretty big too. I usually top my logs at 8 inches in diameter so it goes up in size from there. Here the longest logs can be 16 feet and my shortest only 8 feet. Since these logs are waste wood, most range between 8-12 feet long, probably averaging 12 inches in diameter. I will have to get a photo so you can see what I have.

I like the thought of building a chunker too and chopping up the tops, limbs and saplings that I have kicking around. You would not believe how much that wood adds up. That would take a lot of extra steps though. First gathering the wood up, then chunking it, but I think it would form a better pile and burn better too. Would it be better to do all that and get better, more consistent charcoal? I guess experimentation is in order.


I found some hammer mills on Youtube but could not get them to load, but I wonder if just driving over it with my bulldozer would break it up enough? My bulldozer grousers are 3 inches long, razor sharp and has 10,600 pounds pushing on top if it. I would think that would shatter brittle charcoal okay.




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There is one thing I don't understand: Why on earth do you want to make charcoal out of the wood instead of burning the wood directly? You will have nice looking stacks in your garden, a warm house and won't get in trouble with the fire service. We have a lot of wood stacks in the garden and everyone admires these works of art....
Angela
You firstly can sell  charcoal secondly the wood is all waste stuff not with a high calorific value or  with a high resin content nor much use commercially .
Travis
I don't know if I was clear before it's all about judging the size of wood making it all the same preferably , so it burns uniformally then stacking tightly , I fear the size you mention if far far bigger than we used , that doesn't mean it won't work it's just way outside the parameters I am used too.

David
Travis
Since it's an issue for you I assume it's an issue for the other forestry producers in the area . Why not ask  the state to help out ? Are training grants available ?There are companies in the states making both charcoal and kilns would it not be possible to get a company to come and show off one of there kilns at your place or run a training course at your place ? This could end up proving local jobs eg form a coop -some one has a kiln portable and moves from provider to provider making charcoal from waste wood either selling the charcoal on site or being paid to produce it or selling it himself or herself . I could see that working if I lived next door I would be hammering on your door right now with this idea in person
http://charcoalkiln.com/charcoal-making-direct-method-charcoal-burners/

David
I went up this evening and took a photo or two of the wood piles I would like to dispose of, but the pictures did not come out good because the setting sun was behind them. I'll post them anyway so you can see what I am talking about, but I apologize for the lack of quality. In total there are two, the white pine being on the right, and hemlock and cedar being in the center. The hardwood pi;eon the left is going to the paper mill in the morning. Behind the three piles you can see one of three areas being cleared from forest back into field. There is still a lot of wood left not including the slash. Finding a market for this wood would really be nice which is what this whole thread is about.

I like your idea of a mobile charcoal retort though.

I am not sure about approaching the government though, at least yet. The burning of wood for commercial use changes the dynamics of the laws due to smoke, and it it is against the law to dump coal on the ground directly. Charcoal may be different, but I am not sure. It seems in my life anything I want to dois actually against some law. I am not trying to buck any system here, it just seems most laws are against me. I am not saying that is, or not the case with charcoal making, but it may be.

I have a wood lot tour coming up at the end of the month and might run this by the regional forester that will be here. We are good friends and he knows there is no market for softwoods right now. They might be open to ideas.

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If the wood is suitable, what about mushrooms?
Growing mushrooms on logs and stumps

Just had the thought as I was looking at another post and thought of your situation.
Hope it helps at all.
Hi Travis, I saw your other post about biochar and it sounds like you are leaning away from turning that wood into biochar.  The reasoning was that you'd need a humongous amount of compost to mix with it and you'd need a tremendous amount to amend your fields.

But based on this thread I thought you were thinking about just selling the biochar.  I think that makes a lot of sense.  Make a huge amount, inoculate it with sheep poop, then sell it for good money.  So you could treat it as a cash crop, not an amendment for your large acreage.
Yeah I am actually still moving forward on this.

Yesterday I fired up my bulldozer and dug out a sloped fire pit, enough to hold 4 cord of wood. I have not had enough time to start the burn process (plus it is super dry out right now in Maine with the drought), but when I can get my wood hauled down here and burned, I will let you know how the charcoal came out in quantity and quality.
If it were me, I would sell it without inoculating it first.  Firstly, inoculating it adds a lot of labor and logistical problems.  If you inoculate, it will be much heavier to move, ship, or whatever.  Dry charcoal weighs almost nothing and that could make a big difference in fuel prices or shipping.  In addition, it will need to stay damp, so the packaging will have to be waterproof.

Do people that sell biochar normally sell it already inoculated?   
The reason I remembered your situation was that I've been binge watching this BBC series on living in the 1600's.  The episode I watched last night showed them making charcoal.  Tales from the Green Valley month 9

Good luck with it!!!
The cheapest knotty pine lumber (including rough) I found in Massachusetts or south New Hampshire was $.5/ linear' for 1x8 ($.75/board ft).

If you burn efficiently, you can get syngas, heat, charcoal, pine pitch, tar, turpentine, and movement.
It is not as hard as you seem to think. There are lots of charcoal operations here in Alabama. Basically, they stack the logs outside on the yard with all of the small ends on one end and all of the large ends on the other. It makes kind of a long tapered stack about 12 to 15 feet high and about 10 to 12 feet wide at the large end and as long as the logs, which are roughly uniform in length. They light a small fire under it on the upwind end, and when it gets hot enough (a good amount of smoke) they turn sprinklers on as needed to keep it at the smoldering point. When it stops smoking it's done, usually takes 10 days to 2 weeks. Most use a large drum tumbler to break it up into usable chunks. Look up an old episode of "Dirty Jobs", they had one on charcoal production. Not for the faint of heart as the dust is thick and unpleasant. A hammer mill would require an enormous amount of effort to feed the logs into it. The drum tumbler/crushers that I've seen are about 12 ft in diameter, so they cut the charcoal logs into proper lengths with chain saws, throw them into the tumbler, toss in some large steel balls and let it run until the charcoal is properly sized. Of course they have a graduated shaker sifter down stream of the tumbler to 'size select' the product starting with about golf ball size to about softball size for packaging.
The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers: http://richsoil.com/cards


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