Eco-charcoal soil-to-fuel revolution

Burn baby, burn
The world’s largest “biochar”  eco-charcoal plant opens for business next month in Sequatchie County, Tennessee.

It is possible to make  biochar in your own garden  by simply digging a trench. Pile brush, wood, corn husks and other biomass into the trench and then light it. The fire needs to be hot at first but then has to be cooled down by reducing the oxygen supply.

Supporters say when dug into the soil it also enhances plant growth, increases water permeability, nutrient retention, fertility and improves root development.Although Sequatchie was for decades a coal town, on August 1 it will become a charcoal town, when Mantria Industries and partner company Carbon Diversion Inc, open a new bio-refinery that will transform organic plant waste into biochar, a form of charcoal credited with near miraculous environmental properties.

The company says the plant will be capable of producing almost 40,000 tons of biochar a year –or 8,000 pounds an hour. It will transform wood waste and other biomass into charcoal pellets by a process know as ‘pyrolysis’ which involves burning wood at temperatures between 400c and 1000c with little oxygen.

Within days of the plant’s opening opening, the potential of biochar will be endorsed by the US government. The first major biochar conference in the US will open at University of Colaorado (Boulder) on August 9 with Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture as the keynote speaker.

Biochar sequesters carbon

Biochar has attracted the attention of environmentalists in recent years as a form of biological carbon capture and storage and for its ability to radically improve soil health and crop yields.

Last month a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) claimed that soil could sequester as much as 50 gigatonnes of carbon over coming decades.

Unlike crop wastes and wood, biochar is extremely stable. If mixed into soil it can safely lock up carbon for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Soil is the third-largest carbon sink in the world after the oceans and carbon fuels themselves. Unrestrained open burning releases 95 percent or more of the carbon in the matter. However, low-temperature controlled burning retains about 50 percent of the carbon.

Many believe that if sufficient amounts of biochar were produced, the world could reduce levels of atmospheric CO2 while at the same significantly reducing levels of NO2 (nitrous oxide), a greehouse gas hundreds of times more destructive than CO2.

The use of biochar was pioneered by Amazonian Indians over a thousand years ago. Today Amazonian soil remains fertile without need for any added fertilizer, say experts.

Make your own biochar

A significant aspect of the appeal of biochar is that you don’t need a multimillion dollar refinery to produce it.  Not only can you make it off-grid, it makes off-grid living more feasible by enhancing crops yields on even a very small land-holding.

Experts say the best way to tell what’s going on in a biochar fire is to watch the smoke. The white smoke, produced early on, is mostly water vapour. As the smoke turns yellow, resins and sugars in the material are being burned.

When the smoke thins and turns grayish blue, dampen down the fire by covering it with about an inch of soil to reduce the air supply, and leave it to smolder. Then, after the organic matter has smoldered into charcoal chunks, use water to put out the fire. ENDS

9 Responses

  1. You must read this
    “The Biochar Revolution” with “The Biochar Solution”
    The Biochar Revolution collects the results and best practical advice that these entrepreneurs have to offer to the biochar community. When practice and theory advance to the point where they meet in the middle, then we will truly see a biochar revolution.

  2. This is a very old process for Smithy’s. Blacksmiths make this stuff for their forges. You can take this char and use it in a forge because it burns hotter than the raw wood itself.

    Campers make this stuff out of pure cotton T-shirts because char is extremely easy to light and burns hot enough to ignite even the dampest of tinder.

    Survivalists make this stuff because you can filter raw sewage with it to make drinkable water.

    Families SHOULD keep this stuff on hand because a spoonful of it will help alleviate the effects of accidentally swallowed poisons from under the kitchen sink.

    You can easily make this stuff by taking a metal 55-gallon drum with a lid, throwing your wood in it, closing the lid, then building a fire under the barrel. Make sure to vent the barrel or it will explode. That’s how the smithy’s make it.

  3. “The use of biochar was pioneered by Amazonian Indians over a thousand years ago. Today Amazonian soil remains fertile without need for any added fertilizer, say experts.”

    what an amazingly deceptive and misleading paragraph…trying to imply that the use of biochar is why amazonian soil doesn’t need fertilizer? how patently, utterly and totally absurd. i shouldn’t have to explain why, at least not to anyone with at least 1/8 of a functional brain.

  4. Ray Mears showed producing charcoal and “Norwegian tar” in one of his programmes using a cut down 45 gallon drum
    So simple, why bother buying it!!!

  5. Who made a collector a few years ago which had a series of parabolic mylar reflectors MOUNTED ON THE GROUND so that controlling them and aiming them at an overhead focal point became much, much simpler and weatherproof than other typical trackers or mountings? It would be a great array to heat anything in a pipe – like pre-heating combustion air for a retort, for instance. I think this was an open source invention which btw would allow for big cheap solar. Please help & post it back here.

  6. Simply fantastic…
    I am interested in trying this Biochar PELLETS that will be produced in August.
    Since I live in the Montreal region, I would be willing to drive south to Massena N.Y. or Plattsburg N.Y. to purchase a few bags to prove the efficiency of what I just read.
    So, if you can give me a couple eMails or phone numbers of suppliers of the new pellets in this US area, I would be VERY glad to take action the moment this new product is vailable.
    Thanks for an early reply!

  7. Could biochar be made in a solar oven? Granted, the oven would have to be designed specifically for the purpose, but I would think that “burning it with sunshine” would be far better than setting fire to the stuff.

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