The Forestry Forum

General Forestry => Alternative methods and solutions => Topic started by: roadhunter on June 04, 2015, 03:07:36 PM

Title: Biochar Production
Post by: roadhunter on June 04, 2015, 03:07:36 PM

I have found myself getting really interested in producing biochar.  I did a search on the site and see that it has been discussed a few times but I didn't see anybody who was actually producing biochar.  I'm curious if that has changed recently as biochar seem sot be getting more and more popular.

As I researched the various equipment used to make biochar it became apparent that the US is behind other countries such as the UK or Australia as far as biochar production but we are catching up quickly.  I found there to be a wide variety of manufacturing equipment as well as a wide variety of outputs from bio oil to syngas, to actual biochar.  Some make it in batches and others are more complex and feed at a steady rate.

i am planning to start producing biochar in the next few years.  Aside from using it as a soil amendment there are other applications such as one I am working on with a power utility for removal of mercury at a coal fired generation plant. 

Any other biochar enthusiast on the site?  Anybody making biochar?
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: brianJ on June 04, 2015, 08:36:34 PM
How does biochar differ from charcoal?
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: Puffergas on June 05, 2015, 12:31:41 AM
How does biochar differ from charcoal?

I'm no expert on the subject but it's my understanding that it's charcoal spiked with microbes. And made at a certain temperature. I never had much luck with just adding charcoal to the soil. Humus (type of compost) works for me.

Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: jueston on June 05, 2015, 04:03:34 PM
i recently saw biochar on the LEI products website

i don't know much about it, but they have several options for char based soil augmentations.
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: roadhunter on June 05, 2015, 04:59:42 PM
i recently saw biochar on the LEI products website

i don't know much about it, but they have several options for char based soil augmentations.

I have been in contact with Scott.  Very affordable machine and if you have a need for 500k BTU's of heat it is a perfect setup.  Makes up to 10 gallons of char per hour.  The best part is that since it burns biomass it qualifies for some of the federal and state grant money.  It also has a really slick material handling, grinding, drying system that could really be useful.
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: on June 09, 2015, 07:57:31 AM
I recently had a lunch time chat with a scientific type bio char guy who was talking about soil amendments, production temps, laboratory testing etc. One of the most interesting things he mentioned is that depending on a few production factors you can produce acidic or alkaline bio char to help shift the ph in the soil to neutral. I am interested in both bio char and charcoal since a friend has a charcoal gasifier.  I think that they are similar enough that if you made charcoal you could use your undersize as bio char. Many people seem to be experimenting with additives to the char so that it will do double duty as a fertilizer and an amendment.
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: bdsmith on January 01, 2018, 05:41:08 PM
I'm new to this Forum and just exploring the topics when I spotted this thread.
Hope I'm not too late to chime in.

I've been researching biochar and experimenting with it for several years now.  I started in Arizona with desert soils and it really gives a big bump in crop production.  I moved to southern Mississippi earlier this year and it helps but I haven't seen the drastic growth improvement like I saw in AZ. 
In AZ I was making 5 to 10 gal of charcoal at a time by building a small rick of scrap wood on a backyard barbecue, burning it to coals and quenching it.  Then I soaked it in compost tea and ground it up.  I had a 20x20 veggie garden and in about 3 years, it was saturated with biochar.
Here in MS, I'm clearing a lot of brush and small trees.  I can make a few yards of charcoal at a time by digging a 3'x3'x10' pit and burning in the bottom.  As the wood catches fire, I keep tossing more in, a few branches at time.  The idea is to keep the combustion plane moving up, keeping the oxygen away from the charcoal.  When the pit gets full, I quench it with a hose, dig it out, sift out the small pieces through 1/2" hardware cloth and grind the rest up with a Toro leaf blower.

To convert the charcoal into biochar I treat it with compost tea and fish hydrolysate (to add nitrogen).  You can simply mix compost and charcoal into the soil but I feel soaking the charcoal with liquids will saturate the carbon structure with nutrients much faster.

I mix it into soil between 10% and 15% by volume.  Based on discoveries in the Amazon, it seems to last forever and one dose is enough. 

The wildest thing I've read about biochar is a guy in Australia feeding charcoal to his cows.  As they eat it, it gets saturated in their gut with microbes.  The manure in the pasture is buried by dung beetles and the biochar is distributed 3' deep throughout the pasture.  He  said his cows like it and his fields don't need fertilizers or pesticides.
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: Don P on January 02, 2018, 08:06:11 AM
Never too late to chime in around here  :D
I've been playing with charcoal making lately;,98745.0.html
Paul's link towards the end of that thread looks very interesting for making and screening charcoal and biochar. I've passed around a few sacks and intend to do more when it gets a little warmer out there.
One question, do you think the bump in productivity was due to the biochar or the nutrient tea you soaked it in. In other words did you run an identically fertilized non biochar control or just compare to raw land? I do think it is a good thing but am wondering how much of what I've been reading is a case of rosey glasses. Don't get me wrong, when holding a lump of charcoal and considering that it is atmospheric co2 and that you can stick it back underground for a very long time or send it back up a stack, that is pretty enlightening to my little brain.
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: DMcCoy on January 08, 2018, 04:02:44 PM
I'm not sure if it isn't what you make the charcoal out of in the first place.

I ran into this by fluke in trying to understand a piece of ground I amended that has stayed dark green for 8-10 yrs with no fertilizer added at all.  Small diameter deciduous tree branches chipped.  The area looks like I dump fertilizer on it, it is just amazing.

If the process of making charcoal doesn't destroy the different nutrients then I think what you start with makes a significant difference. 

It would be interesting to figure out what the original creators of Terra Preta burnt.
Title: Re: Biochar Production
Post by: bdsmith on January 09, 2018, 08:46:20 PM
Don P - I have not run any biochar studies. 
I have seen quite a few studies on YouTube with biochar only, biochar w/compost, compost only and controls (raw land).  They all discover that biochar impacts early growth as the charcoal absorbs nutrients but by the end of the season biochar w/compost outperforms all the other options.
I have seen similar YouTube studies with various types of compost tea/organic nutrient teas.  They too outperform the controls.
I'm just combining the two processes for efficiency.

DMCoy - ramial chipped wood is great.  I used it extensively on desert soils in urban Phoenix and got great results as the chips decayed and the nutrients washed into the soil - even in the desert with less than 6 inches of rain each year.  But I had to add to it every year - it tended to disappear.  And it depletes nitrogen in the soil so that has to be added.
Charcoal doesn't contain organic nutrients, only inorganic nutrients from ash. Organic nutrients must be absorbed from the environment. 
The benefit of biochar is that it provides a growth medium for the bacteria, fungi and nematodes that support the soil food web.

I've seen videos on Terra Preta filmed in Brazil where the guys who are harvesting it take off the top 10' to 20' and leave a 1 or 2 foot layer in place.  Then they come back to that area in 20 years and can re-harvest another 10' or 20'.  The theory is that the microbes and fungi leave their own carbon remains which act similar to charcoal.  However, that begs the question of why that process isn't seen in other parts of the world.