Biochar Workshop

Biochar workshop part 1 imageThis biochar workshop delves deep into the many aspects of biochar production and application. Part 1 focuses on practical production techniques using ‘drum within drum’ retort. There may be some advantages for this over the TLUD system (ie, reduced supervision).

Part 2 and 3 are classroom based with Q&A. Bob Wells (New England Biochar) describes his 4-part philosophy for biochar production: 1 – make the best possible biochar; 2 – use the residual energy efficiently; 3 – eliminate emissions; 4 – make the project profitable. John Nilsson (soil scientist) talks about history of biochar and its applications.

Part 4 takes a look at the triple Adam Retort system, installed by New England Biochar, that is the center piece for the site where the workshop is conducted.

Biochar and compost – important information

This should prove to be a valuable contribution to the accumulated knowledge on the benefits of combining biochar and compost (and incorporating references to our very own Clough et al on biochar and soil N dynamics) …

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Kelpie Wilson <>
Date: 13 November 2013 05:24
Subject: [biochar] New publication with sections on biochar and compost
To: “” <>

Hi Everyone,

A report that I worked on for the Washington Department of Ecology has now been published. Many thanks to Mark Fuchs at WDE for initiating this report on compost odor control, and for asking me to contribute a literature review of biochar use in compost and an appendix on the global history of biochar.

Here is a link to the study and the table of contents for the biochar sections. I hope this will be useful information for biochar producers and users.

-Kelpie Wilson

Ma, J., Wilson, K., Zhao, Q., Yorgey, G., & Frear, C. (November, 2013). Odor in Commercial Scale Compost: Literature Review and Critical Analysis. Washington State Department of Resources. Retrieved October 29, 2013, from

Use of Amendment Approaches to Pile Chemistry and Biology -26
Background -26
Volatile fatty acids -27
Ammonia and nitrogen-based odors -28
Hydrogen sulfide and sulfur-based odors -29
Aeration and moisture -30
Methane -31
Nitrous oxide -31
Carbon dioxide -31
Biochar and compost quality -32
Compost nitrogen content -33
Compost maturity and humic content-34
Biochar property alteration through composting -34
Plant growth response to biochar compost -34
Conclusion -35
Appendix A. Historical and Traditional Uses of Biochar Related to Odor Control -39
Ancient and traditional biochar -39
19th century agricultural charcoal -41
The sewer debates -43
Profiles of current initiatives for using biochar in compost -48
Japanese composting with biochar -48
Integrated solutions in Vietnam -49
Waste utilization in rural India -49
The Delinat Institute, Switzerland -49
Sonnenerde Company, Germany -50
Terra Preta Sanitation Initiative -50
European Biochar Research Network -50
International conference on biochars, composts, and digestates -51
Ms.Kelpie Wilson
Wilson Biochar Associates
Home Office: 541-592-3083
Mobile: 541-218-9890
Google Voice: 646-535-7439 (646-kelpiew)
Skype: kelpie.wilson

Biochar and soil carbon sinks encourage ‘soil-first’ farming

Don Graves’ second article on biochar has just been published in the Nelson Mail…

This report was pushed to me via the google search engine so I guess that’s good news for biochar profiling in NZ.

Here’s a link to the 1st article…

Don can be contacted via ABE.

Bioenergy issues overlap with biochar projects

My disagreement with Albert Bates at the Permaculture Convergence last year was his contention that biochar could be a solution to global warming if we just planted enough trees and cut them for biochar. That disagreement touched a range of issues:

  • Peak water – if we tried to grow trees in marginal or arid/semi arid lands as he suggested we would quickly run up against the problem of water. We are already on the limits of fresh water use, if we haven’t already overshot, where does the water come from and what are the opportunity costs?
  • Peak phosphorous (and in NZ trace elements such as boron, selenium etc) Again, we are reaching peak phosphorous without which growth will be much more limited than we would wish. Where do these critical minerals come from?
  • Peak Oil – given that we are demonstrably in a peak energy plateau with an unknowable time to fall-off, it is critical to ask what is the energy cost of converting all these marginal lands to biomass production? How much fuel will we have to burn to feed and water and house the workers who will do all the planting, the machines to transport the seedlings, the mulches to support the seedlings, the nurseries to produce them, the milling, chipping and transporting etc before the first gram of biochar hits the soil?

Because if we haven’t calculated ALL of that, and done so in a factual environment with good numbers for depletion rates and time scales, we could easily get part way through and find ourselves unable to complete the projects, effectively wasting all of the resources that go into them.

But now Rachel Smolker has added a piece that I did not think of at the time. Ecosystems and markets.

Those marginal lands are already filled with their own ecosystems; have we calculated the costs of converting thnem to biomass production and what sort of repalcements will we create? Will they be biodiverse enviromnents in a permaculture mould or will we be going flat out for carbon sequestration and create yet more monocultures designed to suck CO2?

But her main target is the problem of markets and their political power. IF biochar becomes either an enviromental necessity, or the big players can extract rents from their political cronies, we will see something similar to what is happening as described in Smolker’s document,

Bioenergy, a disaster for biodiversity,health and human rights.

Since humans first learned to manipulate fire, people have used local biomass—including wood, other plant matter, and dried animal dung—for heat and for cooking. Billions of people continue to do so. But now, in addition to these traditional uses there is an unprecedented push for large-scale industrial/commercial bioenergy.

This new trend includes refining plant materials (corn, wheat and other grains, sugarcane, soy and palm oil) to make liquid biofuels for transportation and burning plant materials (wood, agricultural residues, municipal waste, etc.) for heat and electricity. Less widely known is the development of plant-based petroleum substitutes for use in bioplastics, biochemicals, inks, fabrics, pharmaceuticals, and other products.

Proponents refer to a new “bioeconomy” featuring massive biorefineries that take in millions of tons of plant biomass and convert them into all manner of energy and materials.

But two important questions are often overlooked in the rush toward bioenergy: Where will all that plant biomass come from, and what will the consequences be on ecosystems, wildlife, agriculture, human rights, climate, water, and soil?

At the moment I am making char out of trees that have to come down both to protect my neighbour’s house and to open up the amount of light that falls across the middle of the block. The longer term aim to to significantly increase the total amount of biomass being generated by the property in the form of an edible forest and to use the prunings as the source of biochar, compost and firewood – including a woodlot.

I’m prepared to make a case that replacing old, slower growing trees with many more younger, faster-growing ones is possibly net carbon negative if the old trees are properly handled but we also acknowledge that the energy cost of managing the place chainsaws, mulchers, the tractor, WWOOFERS will leave us carbon positive for most of the rest of our lives.

We are doing this because, on balance, we believe that working towards a more sustainable future is better than doing nothing and that some kind of permaculture model is better than anything else we have seen and biochar is a part of that thinking..

I would be saddened to see the biochar revolution being co-opted into the mania for fuel production and contributing to raising the price of biomass and hence the temptation to continue eating the good stuff to make a financial profit.

Coal solution a burning issue

I’m not too sure about the title that the Nelson Mail came up with, but its great to see this article in the media. Lets hope its the start of many more. Thanks Don.

“In the first of a two-part series, Dr Don Graves profiles Biochar, a time-honoured method for improving soil fertility and mitigating climate change”

Biochar as a replacement for perlite in greenhouse soilless substrates

This is the title of a masters thesis by Jake Northup from Iowa State University that has been getting kudos from the international biochar community…

“… Many biochar-based substrates produced plants with shoot dry mass greater than or equal to the control. These results demonstrate the potential for biochar to replace perlite and eliminate the limestone amendment needed for commercial greenhouse soilless substrates based on sphagnum peat. Soilless substrates containing biochar as a replacement for perlite and limestone can successfully be used for greenhouse plant production.”

The full thesis can be accessed from here…

Switzerland: the first European country to officially approve biochar

Switzerland has become the first country in Europe to officially approve the use of certified biochar in agriculture, with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture issuing its approval on 23 April 2013. In it, the Delinat Institute is given responsibility for controlling biochar quality and the sustainability of its production.