Report from the (bio)coal-face in Otago

We met Ben Elms recently in Cromwell when he attended our first workshop on 24 May. He had already begun his journey into biochar production and applications. Here is his report from the front line in Otago…

“I got in touch directly with the Ithaka institute after doing some research and deciding I wanted something with a little scale for a kiln. They were kind enough to send me the plans. A Local engineer friend made the Kiln and is about to make a second for a friend. We designed it so it can be easily moved around the property or onto a trailer to take off site. May need to make some modifications for getting it off the trailer the other end.

I proceeded to do 2 burns over 2 days. Using wooden pallets with HT stamp for heat treated. The MB stamped put aside not to be burnt. (methyl bromide treated). Pine brash, broom, prunings, old rotten timber… what ever was easy to access. Going forward I will create a dedicated spot for all this.
Burns went really well. If I ever smothered the fire cap with to much material the broom tops was fantastic to fire it up and keep the fire cap burning well. Generally I would alternate the layers with bigger timber with a layer of smaller diameter timber/brash. Each burn took 5 hrs start to finish.
With the tap at the bottom of the kiln, extinguishing the burn was very easy. The water tote had an old smelly seaweed brew added to it as well as as some liquid humates I had lying around.  The top of the brew was extinguished with a chicken manure slurry and horse manure slurry.
Anything that didn’t char in the first burn went into the second burn. 
Its amazing how much moisture is held in the char. You think its dry but when the biochar is put through the wood chipper the biochar is very damp to wet. If you like your woodchipper to look sparkly then don’t put biochar through it. Looking forward to having lots more burns and experimenting with different quenching brews and different post burn treatment of the biochar. Feel free to contact me for more info/questions.”
Ben sent me more pics … here is a link to the folder where I’ve stored them. We are hoping a local biochar community group will coalesce around the work of Ben and others that attended the Otago workshop. More reports on the workshops are… coming soon
We would welcome more news and stories like this from around NZ…

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