SANTFA broad acre research on biochar

Thanks to Barry Batchelor for identifying this story on research under way by the South Australia No-Till Farmers Association. Note the much lower application rates that may better reflect the economics of biochar utilisation in broad acre applications.

http://www.theland.com.au/news/agriculture/cropping/general-news/biochar-creates-options/2663817.aspx?storypage=0

Having Your Carbon & Eating it Too – October 13-16 at UMass Amherst

Erich Knight provides some great marketing for the upcoming USA biochar conference:

“This article omits the concomitant benefits of biochars for soil Carbon sequestration, building soil biodiversity & nitrogen efficiency, in situ remediation of toxic agents, and how modern thermal conversion systems are closed-loop, no significant emissions with a 1/3 carbon negative energy cycle, to focus on Biochar as a feed supplement cutting the Carbon Hoof, Paw, Fin and Poultry foot prints of livestock.

The number of ruminants now trampling planet Earth is beyond belief. Ruminants evolved about 50 million years ago, and by the year 1500 there were about 200 million on our planet. Now there are
2 billion, and only 75 million are wildlife! Each year we breed 64 billion livestock (mostly chickens),
that’s about 9 animals per person per year globally. Add to this another 600 million pets and mankind husbands a total of 2.5 Billion animals.

One accounting of the full life cycle analysis equates the Carbon-paw-print of a large dog to that of
a small SUV. A cow Carbon-hoof-print equates to a couple of big SUVs. The potential to slash these
climate costs by 1/3, or more, with such a small diet modification can not be ignored!

Carbon Fodder Reports
The first reports were from Dr Takeo Takahashi at the 2008 Asian Biochar conference, describing the
Japan Biochar Association’s work rejuvenating sick, assumed dead, battery raised chickens. The char-fed eggs had no odor and fetched twice the market price in Japan.
Read more here: http://www.geocities.jp/yasizato/pioneer.htm

In aquaculture, a doubling in size of fish, clams & shrimp is reported by SuperStoneClean Biochar,
also in Japan [3]

Then from the EU, the Delinat Institute reports major health benefits in cattle & poultry, and have
quantified data collected from 80 farms. Tens of thousands of animals show far better feed conversion ratios, curing chronic botulism, extremely low bio-counts in milk and binding estrogenic steroid hormones in manure. Leave it to the Germans & Swiss to literally take the stink out of Manure. [4]

This hard data and all other aspects of Biochar soil technology will be presented October. 13-17, at
the University of Massachusetts, during the 2013 USBI North American Biochar Symposium
http://pvbiochar.org/2013-symposium/

One of dozens of sessions at the symposium, the Biochar Novel Uses Session, will feature Hans-
Peter Schmidt from the Delinat Institute. He has consulted for the most renown viticulturist in
California. His work with “Carbon Fodder” in animal husbandry is unsurpassed, demonstrating efficacy to the Swiss authorities and leading to Switzerland becoming the second nation after Japan (in 1984) to officially recognize Biochar in 2013. Schmidt has helped several EU companies develop Carbon based dog, cat & cattle foods. He has pioneered integrated farm systems producing a continuous cascade of value enhancements. These include health gains and methane reductions from Char-based feeds, the reduction of GHG emissions, and the plant-available conservation of Nitrogen with Char and compost field applications.

At Delinat a “Building Division” is being developed to exploit Char use as a building material in bricks, wood siding finishes, and Char-Plasters for solid state humidity control. If high temperature Char is used…hold on to your hats!…..All cellphone signals are blocked!

Dr. Ron Leng published the first in vivo ruminant study. Previous work with char and rumin liquids showed promise in vitro, but in the cow he achieved a 20-40% reduction of methane belching and a 25% increase in weight gain – with a biochar feed supplement of just 0.6%. [5]

In the Student Union Ballroom of the Campus Center at UMass Amherst, the 2013 USBI North
American Biochar Symposium will host a Biochar Banquet. Various food stations will feature nutrient dense Biochar grown produce, cool carbon negative foods, like Charcoal Peanuts. Quite literally this conference covers Carbon-soup to nuts. This Carbon event has it all. Come learn with us how pyrolitic Carbon can save our soils while saving our climate…”

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/se-biochar/naB4NB-2Fao

With regard to Erich’s Ref.No.[4], …

The use of biochar in cattle farming

by Achim Gerlach

“90% of the biochar produced in Europe is used in livestock farming. Whether mixed with feed, added to litter or used in the treatment of slurry, the positive effect of biochar very quickly becomes apparent. The health – and consequently the well-being – of the livestock improve within just a short space of time. As regards nasty smells and nutrient losses, the use of biochar could even herald a new age of livestock farming, closing agricultural cycles of organic matter.”

Summary and conclusions

“The use of biochar in livestock farming offers solutions to the increasingly complex problems of modern-day farming, the result of a combination of profit maximisation and disrespect for the physiological needs of the animals. The adsorption qualities of biochar permit a wide range of toxic substances to be bound in the gastrointestinal tract. They also lead to the detoxification of already resorbed toxins (in particular lipophilic toxins) in the plasma via “enteral dialysis”. The oxidation and deamination of biogenic amines also play a particularly stabilising role in the intestines. Dysbiosis can be very efficiently and positively influenced by biochar, and eubiosis can be maintained much longer despite environmental fluctuations in the digestive tract.
A clear separation of the impact in the pro- or metaphylactic field and the therapeutic approach is desirable in theory, though in practice these effects are overlapping. In cases of acute intoxication, the parallel administration of saline laxatives is recommended (Wiechowski 1914).
One current problem affecting Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony in particular is the high level of nitrate pollution in drinking water, the result of intensive farming. The scientific methods for reducing nitrates in the soil have been known for more than a century. Reductions can be achieved by the intelligent use of commercial fertilisers based on biochar. Reports in this area have been published by Sommer (2005). Similarly, the changed economic conditions under which farms operate mean that what is now needed is a re-assessment of certain practices from an epidemiological perspective. These include the disposal of placentas via the slurry system and the widespread use of bone meal as a fertiliser especially on account of increased maize production. One option available for minimising expected epidemiological and drinking water problems involves the inclusion of inert biochar in agricultural cycles of organic matter.
Also necessary are tests on the biochar used, making sure that it complies with the structural, chemical, physical and biological requirements of the European Biochar Certificate (EBC). This is the only way to achieve a transferability of the results gained in the use of different chars to other studies.

Achim Gerlach is a vet working for the Schleswig Holsteinschen Landkreis Dithmarschen and is probably the expert with the most experience in Europe on the administration of biochar in livestock feed. Should readers wish to directly contact the author, please just drop us a line.”

http://www.ithaka-journal.net/pflanzenkohle-in-der-rinderhaltung?lang=en

BlueLeaf Preliminary 2013 Biochar Field Trial Results – Small Fruit

Barry Husk from www.blue-leaf.ca has posted to the biochar discussion groups as follows…

“Just a quick note to give some preliminary results, 1st harvests, from our 2013 biochar field trials on small fruit:

Blueberries

Patriot Highbush variety

5 replicate plots biochar and controls; 100 bushes

Biochar applied by slurry injection to root zone, early May 2013

Equivalent rate of 1 kg/m2, 10 T/ha.

1st harvest: fresh weight +11%, berry size +8% with biochar (p-values < 0.05)

2 harvests remaining

Strawberries

(day-neutral) Seascape variety

5 replicate plots biochar and controls; 15,500 plants total

Biochar applied with manure spreader, early May2013, incorporated with rotary harrow; mounded under plasticulture

Equivalent rate of 10 T/ha

1st harvest: fresh weight +13% with biochar and 3% less off-grade quality with biochar (p-values < 0.05)

Approx. 15 harvests remaining”

More information here… http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/biochar-soils/message/921

Canadian farm trial of biochar

The Canadian Biochar Consortium have initiated a large-scale on-farm trial to determine the viability of different types of biochars for agriculture use.  Another focus, less relevant to New Zealand under the present political climate, is the use of biochar as a tool to mitigate the effects of climate change.  See the short article on farms.com.

No further info at this time but this is a study that is worthy of our ongoing attention.

An update from Lloyd Helferty (Canadian Biochar Consortium) in response to questions about the trial’s duration and access to progress information:

Unfortunately right now we do not have a website [or database] set up. We are still in the early planning stages, and the website and Information Portal likely won’t be put together until we have actually secured the funding that we will be applying for in order to undertake these trials. (Note: It will likely take several months again after we apply for this funding before it is available for us to use in order to implement these sort of things, so don’t expect much in the next few months.) 
With regard to the length of the trials, we hope to run the trials for several years on each farm ~ ideally for up to 10 years, depending on the level of funding that we receive (which could be in the $ millions [?]… again, if we are able to secure the funding.) 
We do feel that we have a good chance of succeeding at securing this funding, however.

Deep soils store up to five times more carbon than first thought: study

“Deep soils store up to five times more carbon than is commonly reported, a new study by Murdoch University and Cranfield University in the UK has found.

Soil locks in greenhouse gases by storing carbon, making it a crucial player in the fight against global warming. Greenhouse gases are released when soils are exposed to air by farming, peat drainage and deforestation.

Current estimates of soil organic carbon are based largely on measurements to depths of 30 cm. This approach has evolved in North America and Europe, where soil is generally more shallow.” …

http://theconversation.com/deep-soils-store-up-to-five-times-more-carbon-than-first-thought-study-15618

This is currently being discussed on the international biochar-policy group, latest comment here… http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/biochar-policy/message/4767

I found a nice back-ground document on soil carbon in NZ, Co/ Prof. Louis Schipper’s Waikato University page… http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/about-us/people/schipper scroll to…

“Soil Carbon and Nitrogen

If you are interested in learning about soil carbon or soil nitrogen, two non-technical articles published in the New Zealand Science Teacher can be found here – Soil carbon, Soil nitrogen.”

I’m not sure how old this article is… http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/science/greenhouse-gases/agricultural-greenhouse-gases/soil-carbon-offset but it seems to imply that NZ soils under current farming practices are unlikely to become a useful carbon sink. Does this article need to be revisited with biochar application in mind?

TLUD Second burn

The Second burn of the TLUD was an attempt to increase the feedstock value by adding new material in through the secondary air gap during the process. WE started with a half barrel of chips as a way to test the process and it worked reasonable well, although possibly 20% of the material was untouched by the time the embers started to drop from the bottom of the barrel.

Some thoughts below the pics.

  • The supplementary feedstock did reasonably well in the time. Anything under about 10mm charred reasonably well, the pieces around 25mm had a solid, uncharred core.

 

Thoughts on the burn

  • Its possible that starting the burn with only half a barrel meant that any asymmetry in the lighting (with some diesel) was perpetuated because it had immediately to draw from below rather than getting a good, open, fire started before the process went anoxic.
  • Its also possible that the asymmetry of the air flow from below was wider spread than we thought and the unburned part of the barrel was completely starved of oxygen. I had assumed that the multiple pathways available through chip would tend to even things out, but apparently, once the burn pattern is established, you are stuck with it.
  • The initial temperature rise caused by the open fire front on the top may also have had something to do with the problem, if you can’t get the heat up to start with, the process can’t rectify that
  • Not sure about the amount of smoke produced. It wasn’t huge and it didn’t last long, but it was much more than the previous burn which used dried Sugu (cryptomeria japonica) foliage as kindling. Sugu burns very hot and immediately, that may be the key to smokeless startups.
  • I will not do partial burns in future and will make sure to get the widest possible fire front started above the feedstock charge before it depends on the up draft.
  • Getting the barrel further off the ground should improve the airflow and reduce any ground effect, plus give us more room to unblock inlets as needed.
  • I will also add a couple of steel bars across the top of the barrel to increase the air flow and improve combustion of the evolved gases, but that also demands building a retort to sit inside the afterburner, like this.
  • Supplementary feedstock needs to be reasonably dry and probably less than 15mm at its thickest point but I suspect can be of arbitrary shape and should be added as soon as possible once the top of the barrel is anoxic. A longer time in the barrel would have produced a better result and a more even burn below should create better charring conditions above.

Next task

Another burn. Add the steel bars which will also give room to add supplementary feedstock, probably put the failed feedstock from Thursday into the mix and give it another burn and try to find a 100-150 litre barrel to stand on top of the burn barrel as a retort.

I have 2 new WWOOFERS arriving Monday, guess what they will be doing.

Callaghan Innovation – biochar funding

Peter Kerr writes about technology funding in NZ from his StickNZ blog. He has had some harsh words to say about the process that has led to the development of the Callaghan Innovation (you can search his blog for this… http://sticknz.net/author/sticknz/).

I note that his latest post discusses an important announcement that will be released today by CI. A quick look at the CI website reveals a “Fund Finder“. I’ve not explored this yet, but maybe a useful tool for biochar researchers, project, technology and product developers?

Your experiences with funding may have valuable lessons for others reading this post. Do consider sharing them.

 

AllBlackEarth – progress report

We have had 35 people sign up to date. That’s probably a 10% strike rate but early days yet. Plenty of names missing that should & probably will arrive in time. I hope we can circulate stats based on the signup form (interests, region) but I guess this can wait until our numbers stabilize and our structure / plans are agreed around a new management team.

NZBRC kindly provided a speaking slot for me, to announce the release of this website during this 4th edition of their annual workshop (4-5 July). I’m not sure of workshop numbers… looked to be about 50 participants. I’m not planning a synopsis on the workshop here (hoping others attending, more qualified than me, will step up for comment on this).

We hoped to gather those interested in the new group over lunch at the end of the workshop. My apologies for the poor organization of this – it failed to happen. But I think we may have identified at least 1 or 2 new potential organising committee members. I propose maintaining the G+ circle as the communication tool for the ABE management team. I will circulate a notice to the old team for each to put their hand up again, to see who is interest in continuing. If you are keen to help, then please let us know. Also interested in advice and suggestions on how to manage this process (I’m a novice at this).

Thoughts on the TLUD

About a year ago I asked an incinerator maker to build me a TLUD based on a design I’d seen on YouTube. Yesterday it worked properly for the first time.

300 litre TLUD burner

300 litre TLUD burner

The main burner barrel has 50 x 25mm holes in the bottom and stands on 3 bricks during the burn. The middle section is half a 300 litre barrel afterburner with a series of tabs cut in the lower edge. Tabs are alternately turned inwards and outwards. They both support and stabilise the afterburner and allow secondary air into the chamber. The flue is a 50 litre oil drum punched through; probably a bit too short and wide but it appears to do the job.

When I first tried it I used cryptomeria that had been through a mulcher and failed completely. Although cryptomeria is full of volatiles and should burn well, the chip size was too small and simply choked the fire. About a year ago we had a pile of old pine trees cut down and mostly chipped into pieces 10-25mm and now we have several large piles of chip awaiting use.

At the end of summer I had as much of the driest material as I could put into trays made of old freight pallets and stacked in the barn until the weather changed and the fire bans disappeared.

Pallet stacks with dried woodchip

Pallet stacks with dried woodchip

Yesterday, with the help of my mate Simon Coughlan, I filled the TLUD and set it off again. This time the burn was nearly perfect. It was smokeless from almost the first moment and 2 hours later the first of the embers started to fall through the air holes in the bottom so I doused it with about 50 litres of water.

Findings

  • The 300 litres of chip had almost all burned, about 5% uncharred material left at the end
  • Zero visible emissions from the moment we lit the top. After a long hot summer and another couple of months stacked in a breezy barn but out of the rain, moisture levels must have been pretty low, after comparison with known material at 25% I am going for under 20%.
  • The burn was silent so probably not a very strong draw but the product is very acceptable. Probably a better flue would shorten the burn time rather than improve the quality.
  • chip size and burn completeness

    chip size and burn completeness

    The char is mostly odourless and snaps/crushes readily, I’m pleased with it.

  • There was a very slight unevenness in the burn within the barrel, only visible at the very bottom with most of the unburned chip to one side, I’m guessing it was because that side was closest to a slight slope up from the concrete pad we were burning on and the air flow might have been slightly inhibited on that side.
  • There was very little smell of incomplete charring, again, guessing that it came only from the unfinished char at the margins.
  • The char is very hydrophilic, it soaked up the water really well and remains moist to the touch next morning.
  • Total product almost exactly 30% I put in 300 litres and carried away 5 x 20 litre trugs of material, including the incomplete char.

Next Time

  • Use taller bricks to support the barrel and possibly even out the air flow to reduce further the uneven burn. Its not critical but doing better is good.
  • Add fuel during the burn. As the charge in the barrel sank, I could see the twigs we used to start the fire sitting on the top, charred but complete so I could tell that the system was working and there was no air in the upper part of the barrel which was very hot.At that point I experimented with tossing in via the flue some random twigs lying about. Apart from one that caught on the top of the chimney, none of them produced any smoke so I am convinced that they dropped onto the top of the char bed and did not burn but rather pyrolised and all the off-gasses were then burned in the afterburner.I guess that since the upper part of the barrel is both very hot and oxygen free, we should be able to add an arbitrary amount of new material to the char bed as the process continues. The new material will not be able to cool the fire because that is going on well below the top of the char bed which itself will insulate the flame front and the flame is, in any case, being fed from below. As long as the new material does not significantly interfere with the gas flows (either by collapsing the char with extra weight so that the upper bed becomes impermeable to the gasses or by being too fine and acting as a blanket) we should be able to keep adding new material throughout the burn if we are prepared to accept that some might not be fully pyrolised at the end.

    Since the burn takes about 2 hours I’m thinking we can add new material from about 30 minutes in as the bed gets well below the top of the barrel and keep adding until about 90 minutes in and still expect to get it fully charred.

    The good thing is that size should not matter. If there are too many small pieces in the original charge they snuff out the air flow, if the pieces are too large they create uneven pathways that make the burn too assymetrical, but once the flame front is well buried in the charge, the size of the pieces being added should be irrelevant as long as they are not too heavy for the char bed or too thick to fully char in the available time.

    Another plus is that the extra fuel will have no production cost. All of the chipped fuel/charge has to be run through the chipper which has a cost, but picking up random rubbish fuel from anywhere that can be added later has a production cost close to zero;the rubbish needed picking up anyway and there are no extra processing steps. That should make the resource cost efficiency as high as possible with this system. I’ll be interested to see how high a moisture content we can get away with.

    I will make a stack of larger pieces and probably add them by removing the flue temporarily. Although a design with a sealable feeder chute would be better, if anyone has a design for one let me know in the comments.

The Future

  • I am unhappy with the amount of waste heat the system produces, If I had been able to capture the energy given to heating the air around the barrel I could have baked 20 loaves of bread or roasted a meal for 6, possibly while doing a stir fry on the top of the afterburner.From a sustainability and energy efficiency perspective, there is a crying need for an equivalent of a wood-fired pizza oven that will do some real work with the heat while producing the charcoal. I’m prepared to put some $$ into a real idea for that.