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September 20, 2009


Delicious biochar for everyone!

It really will be a shame if humanity destroys itself, since we actually have the means to save ourselves if we could manage to focus on what matters.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at September 20, 2009 08:41 AM

I finished building a charcoal maker about 2 weeks ago. Its a 55 gallon steel drum with a removable lid that has an outer ring clamp to hold it on. I punched a hole in the side near the bottom and fitted a 2 in diameter chevy exhaust pipe in the hole. When the barrel is on its side the pipe hole is on top and the pipe itself circles down to the bottom outside of the barrel. The pipe has 8, 1/2 inch holes, near the bottom of the barrel and the end of the pipe is hammered closed. The vapors from the process can then escape through the holes and burn to help make heat to make the charcoal. The whole affair is hanging in a frame made from the roof of an old horse trailer that war removed before the trailer was sold 4 years ago. I'll try it out when the snow comes to avoid a possible range fire. THANX Bruce F for the idea to build one.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 20, 2009 09:10 AM

I saw something on teevee the other night about some fellows making a converter that, without utilizing steam, converts wood to charcoal, and then reduces the gasses released in the process (CO2, H2O) into gasses (C) and H) which could then be oxicized to propel an internal combustion engine...

Posted by: Woody at September 20, 2009 12:12 PM

I saw something on teevee the other night about some fellows making a converter that, without utilizing steam, converts wood to charcoal, and then reduces the gasses released in the process (CO2, H2O) into gasses (CO) and H) which could then be oxicized to propel an internal combustion engine...

Posted by: Woody at September 20, 2009 12:13 PM

Mike Meyer: Do you light the biomass inside the drum, and the gas escaping the pipe then automatically ignites beneath the barrel to provide more external heat? Is this shrinking your carbon footprint or just making good natural fertizer of the sort prairie fires used to make?

Woody: He can also use the carbon monoxide to gas himself and his passengers, and if gets tired of his vehicle he can use the hydrogen to blow it up.

Posted by: N E at September 20, 2009 12:39 PM

N E Wood or other organic material, I going to use cow shit as I have plenty, is stacked loosely in the barrel and the lid is clamped on. A bursh fire is started UNDERNEATH. Once the gasses are generated and escaping out the holes they will ignite and is self sustaining from then on until the process is complete. Should one want to, those gasses could be piped away in an undrilled pipe and distilled like water into various FLAMABLE liquids, oils, and greases. Before the oil industry there was such a forest products industry making much like petrochemical refining products. Of course if the gasses are distilled then the barrel heating fire will need to be maintained separately. I will use brush for the initial fire.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 20, 2009 12:55 PM

I have a pellet, that when added to the wood in the charcoal burner turns the wood into lead, which is then easily converted into gold via a method known since 1143, but kept from the people by the Knights Templar.

Please, this is chemistry, materials on one side of the equation, energy and materials on the other. Just like with oil, or switchgrass, or corn, or coal or whatever.

Which is not to say that these things won't work -- they will -- they just won't save the planet. See, e.g., today's NYT.

Posted by: drip at September 20, 2009 01:05 PM

mAYbe in the future we can combine psychic surgery, liposuction and 'biochar' into parts of the same, socially-responsible process. I'm going to buy some donuts--take that, OPEC!

Posted by: Carl at September 20, 2009 01:12 PM

N E, drip, Carl: I just plan to make charcoal and I will use it in an experimental garden. I'll leave "saving the world" to YOU (and the Knights Templar, of course).

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 20, 2009 01:38 PM

It's great in the garden Mike. If you go to NASA's website and search for fire you can see fields burning all over the world to make fertilizer. Try this one first.

Posted by: drip at September 20, 2009 05:43 PM

Below are important links to follow,
I hope they will be helpful.

Biochar Soils.....Husbandry of whole new orders & Kingdoms of life

Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel. Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!
Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 80%-90% Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 2X Fertility Too.
Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration (= to 1 Ton CO2e) + Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels = to 1MWh exported electricity, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw;
"Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes;
"Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !".
Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar.
Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come.
Microbes like to sit down when they eat.
By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders & Kingdoms of life.

This is what I try to get across to Farmers, as to how I feel about the act of returning carbon to the soil. An act of penitence and thankfulness for the civilization we have created. Farmers are the Soil Sink Bankers, once carbon has a price, they will be laughing all the way to it.

Dr. Scherr's report includes biochar.

I think we will be seeing much greater media attention for land management & biochar as reports like her's come out linking the roll of agriculture and climate.

Unlike CCS which only reduces emissions, biochar systems draw down CO2 every energy cycle, closing a circle back to support the soil food web. The photosynthetic "capture" collectors are up and running, the "storage" sink is in operation just under our feet. Pyrolysis conversion plants are the only infrastructure we need to build out.

Another significant aspect of bichar and aerosols are the low cost ($3) Biomass cook stoves that produce char but no respiratory disease. and village level systems with the Congo Basin Forest
Fund (CBFF). The Biochar Fund recently won $300K for these systems citing these priorities;
(1) Hunger amongst the world's poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa,
(2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming,
(3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and
(4) Climate change.

There are dozens soil researchers on the subject now at USDA-ARS.
and many studies at The up coming ASA-CSSA-SSSA joint meeting;

Major Endorsements:

Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

NASA's Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.

Dr. James Lovelock (Gaia hypothesis) says Biochar is "The only hope for mankind"

Charles Mann ("1491") in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

Tony Blair & Richard Branson in the UK and conservative party opposition leader John Turnbull in Oz.

internationally, the work of the IBI fostering the application by 20 countries for UN recognition of soil carbon as a sink with biochar as a clean development mechanism will open the door for programs across the globe.

This new Congressional Research Service report (by analyst Kelsi Bracmort) is the best short summary I have seen so far - both technical and policy oriented. .

This is the single most comprehensive report to date, covering more of the Asian and Australian work;

Biochar data base;

Earth Science Terra Preta Forum;
Terra Preta - Science Forums

Given the current "Crisis" atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

Posted by: Erich J. Knight at September 20, 2009 11:00 PM

To Mike Meyers' comment (#1) that I gave him the idea to build a charcoal maker: Not sure how/when I did that, but glad to help.

I'm building some small raised beds in my sideyard and am trying to figure out how to work biochar into the soil. Most of the stories I read are how to do this on a large scale--I guess if you want to save the planet you got to think big--but I'm looking for small scale examples.

Something like this.

Got any more?

Posted by: Bruce F at September 21, 2009 01:26 PM

Bruce F: It isn't how its the REASON to make charcoal. My Dad made charcoal for money during the Depression and taught me how when I was child.
I have a working antique 1896 Buffalo Railroad Forge sitting in my front yard and I live on top of one of the nation's largest coal vein. Naturally I always use coal as its cheap and easy to buy downtown and I could dig it out of the yard if necessary. YOUR rooftop gardening and biochar story interested me into making charcoal. Charcoal works just as good in a forge as coal and I'm a chronic farmer. I LOVE gardening. So, again, THANX.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 21, 2009 10:07 PM