BIOCHAR The Science Behind It

While I was reading about wood gasfication, pyrolisis and the over all benefits of wood gas, I came up to this disertation about biochar and what or how it can benefit all of us who live in farms. If the subject doesn´t belong in this caegory, I apollogie and Chris is free to move it. This is the video I found:

“(May 19, 2010) Johannes Lehmann, Associate Professor of soil biogeochemistry at Cornell University, discusses the characteristics of naturally occurring terra preta including its agricultural and carbon sequestering benefits and then turns to considering the factors involved with implementation industrial biochar systems for large-scale carbon sequestration and energy provision.”

I think this video is a good start for the discution.
Thanks in advance to all who may be involved in this topic. It´s far most interesting and of benefit to all us farmers. I´ve seen some WK´s videos mentioning some facts touched here.
Hope you like it. Welcome the discution.
PD: please forgive my English grammar, English is not my mother language, Spanish is.

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Will have to watch later when I have access to WiFi. But anyway
Muchas gracias
What you said in reverse

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I just watched the first 15 mins of the lecture and found it most interesting, informative and relevant. I will watch all of it, probably several times. There’s so much there and the speaker seems to have all that info already digested.
Thanks for posting. Pepe

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Adding charcoal to the soil is a great way to enhance soil health. The fines I have left over from processing my engine grade charcoal are used in the urinal and composting toilet for odor control and nutrient retention. All of this gets composted and applied to the garden. Softwood charcoal is added to the horse stall where they stomp it into the manure. The odor and fly issues are nearly all gone. This nutrient ladened charcoal is then added to the garden. For every pound of charcoal put in the ground, you keep almost three pounds of CO2 out of the air. Charcoal in the ground is a good way to sequester CO2, increase nutrient retention, increase water retention and increase soil tilth. I’ve been adding charcoal to my garden for over 6 years now and am going to ramp up my production. GREAT STUFF! You got to love charcoal!
Gary in PA

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Is that because charcoal is almost pure carbon so 1 lb of carbon oxidizes with 2 lbs of oxygen in the air to produce 3 lbs of CO2?

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I am glad to see this topic created. I am puting charcoal fines in the soil for the first time this year so im am just a beginer in what looks like a great soil conditioner. I do remember once l was a kid we burned a big pile of old rotten hay near a pile of goat dung. After the hay burned and smolderd away it left behind a char/ash mix and the rain washed some nutrients from the dung to it. The next year my mom threw some potato pealings on there and one acidently sprouted. After a few months l pulled the plant out only to find the bigest potato anyone culd ever imagine. Belive it or not that one potato gave lunch to two adults and 3 children so this biochar realy seems to make miricles!

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I just returned from Rwanda where we have started an ecological sanitation business in a remote village. Our system uses charcoal in urine diversion dry toilets (UDDT). We placed 17 units in test homes last September and everyone loves them. They have been using the urine/biochar mix on crops with great results. On this trip we built a larger retort for transforming crop waste into charcoal. The excess heat of pyrolysis is used to pasteurize the feces/charcoal mix which is then formed into charcoal briquettes. This solid “waste” can also be used as fertilizer, but we think using it as fuel may have a more beneficial effect of slowing deforestation. We have everything in place to start scaling up as soon as a shipment of buckets arrive in our village. Thanks for the topic.
Bruce

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Hi Brian, Carbon has an atomic weight of 12 while oxygen has a weight of 16. Therefore one mole of CO2 has an atomic weight of 44. (12 + 16 + 16= 44) Charcoal is about 80% pure carbon so if that is not burned but placed in the ground or just left somewhere, it cannot oxidize back into CO2.
Gary in PA

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Great video! He really gets into the details of how and why char improves the soil. I do worry though that some people get unrealistic expectations when we talk about the organic/natural/bio/green products out there. I have no doubt that if you have terrible soil, char will probably make it better. If you don’t have terrible soil, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. As he mentions, fire happens nearly everywhere on earth, and when you have fire, you usually have char and that char doesn’t go away for a long, long time. I wouldn’t go tilling up my lawn to amend it with char if it doesn’t really need it, and thanks to the American Indians, my soil already has plenty of it.

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I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. Years ago, I thought ethanol was going to save the world from the ravages of the petroleum industry, and man was I wrong. Now I’m a little more timid about promoting eco stuff.

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Biochar is one more tool to reduce testing our environmental emprinte, especially for those living in the countryside

Thierry

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Gary
I quote “Softwood charcoal is added to the horse stall Where They stomp it into the manure”

Why charcoal " softwood " in particular?
Thierry

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Is hardwood charcoal less absorbent?

Biochar is what lead me to wood gasification in the first place, and one the reasons I think driving on wood is so cool! Here is an article I wrote about biochar and its function in soils:

http://permaculturenews.org/2014/10/22/black-magic-secrets-amazonian-fertility/

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I come from the old old old school where farmers cleaned the barn once a day and hauled the manure to the field. In spring it got tilled down into the soil. The old saying was the field next to the barn grew the best crops because many days it took to much time to haul the manure to the “back forty”. Some times they grew a spring crop that would be tilled back into the ground before planting the summer crop to add supplement to the soil.

Then the farms got big and you didn’t have time to cultivate the corn so they made Round-up, which kills ALL plant life except the “special” corn. That was bad but so much corn was harvested as "shelled: corn that the stalks and residue were left in the field for the following year. Now the don’t use silos any more, they use plastic, either in long tubes that they fill with corn silage or the pack the silage on the ground into huge mounds and cover it with plastic. This is all silage, which is harvested by cutting the stalks of at the ground level and grinding them into silage. With Round-up and making silage, there is NO vegetation to go back into the field.

The placing of manure on the field has all changed with the “mega” farms also and I won’t go into that subject but it is even more detrimental to our land than chemical farming.

What this rant boils down to is I have 120 acres of land. Some rich and some gravel. I would love to be a good care tacker of the land, but with that many acres, what can I do? You can’t compost from your own excesses enough to make a difference in that quantity of land. It is good that you can compost for a garden and if every human did that we could recover, but that isn’t going to happen. I now rent my land out and fortunately there is a big demand for land for the mega dairies and I do get to dictate some rules by making the land more expensive for the crops that don’t levee residue. Any practical recommendation on things I could do to improve the soil? TomC

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Cover crops work well for improving large areas. Plant it, grow it, till it under. Also look into sheet composting, just layers of “stuff” on the field will help a lot.

Some styles of strip grazing cattle will massively improve the fields as well.

Several organic farmers I know believe in intensive lime application, as in several tons per acre. This sweetens the soil, makes it respond better to other fertilizers. It’s very much needed if there’s been a lot of cropping done. Look for low magnesium lime, you don’t want to overdo it on the magnesium.

If I had a few tons of biochar, that’d go on the field too… but where to get that much is the problem. You’ll need a very large retort.

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Chris, I just drove into the yard with a load. It cost me $100 and 80 miles. I plan to screen the fines for the compost piles, and reprocess some of the larger pieces. They clink and clank together, ring like bells, but close examination shows lots of unfinished brown wood. I think I will be able to mix some of them into TLUD stoves and retorts to finish them off.

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Tom, the single most effective broad-acre approach that I have seen for land restoration is the implementation of earthworks, specifically digging swales, or shallow ditches on contour with a mound behind them. Their function is to catch and retain rainwater, and being on contour they will prevent erosion and soil loss. If possible, it is great to plant native trees and bushes on the berm (the mound behind the swale) as they will benefit greatly from the increased water catchment. Chris also has a good point in that cover crops are really helpful for rebuilding soils, especially nitrogen fixers like rye, clover, and so forth. Proper rotational grazing of livestock can rebuild soils too, as long as the land is not overgrazed.

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Ray what kind of business do you look for that has that amount of char as a byproduct. As I understand it you can not just put charcoal on the field with out letting it get energized in some other materials such a manure. Up here the farmers have “swimming” pools under grates where the cows stand. They HOSE all the manure down between the grates. Then the pump the solution out into tanker trucks and spray it onto fields before tilling. Would it be possible to dump the charcoal into the tanker just before filling and let it mix as the tank is filled and driven to the field? Would that be enough time for the charcoal to be energized ( I know that isn’t the word I’m looking for but ) And then the subject comes up, how much charcoal do you add to an acre? TomC

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Ok guys, hope youv´ed had a nice day. I´m so glad the the topic has had so much good reception. Aldo I´m a phisician (MD) I´ve lived in a farm for the last 27 years and all of my family are farmers or farmer descendents por the last 300 years I believe. I´ve been fallowing these people of Living Web Farms" and they have several tutorial videos (5 of them) for the “what, why and how” of Biochar. This is their portal link:

They have come up with a very complex, but yet reliable system for the makeing and useing of biochar in a very autosuficient form. Much of what they propose we have used in our very small “almost” autosuficient farm (3 acres). When we got here for the first time, 40 years ago (my wife first), the soils where very acid and by doing several natural procedures we have enrichened the soils to the point that we plant almost any thing in it. The ultimate has been Biochar that we “activate” with manure, compost and worm liquor (pis); all these together have given us the best reults, but, NOTHING has been so efective as BIOCHAR. We pulverize it, activate it and mix it. We have also used what we call “ROCK POWDER” (various types of rocks from river sides and beaches pulverized) for some of the soils. We have used biochar to “cure” the final digestion pond for served waters and its effects are amaezing (I´ll post pictures); it can also be used in the fish pond to purifie the water. We are so enthuseized with the results that I felt so much it could be a good topic from witch we can all learn. I´m pleased with the results

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