Biochar: Recycling Waste Biomass to its Highest Value Use MassRecycle ’ s University of Resource Management and 10 th Annual Organics Recycling Summit April 6, 2010 Hugh McLaughlin, Ph.D., P.E. Director of Biocarbon Research Alterna Biocarbon Inc., div of Alterna Energy [email_address] www.alternabiocarbon.com
So given a certain amount of carbon that cycles annually through plants, half of it can be taken out of its natural cycle and sequestered in a much slower biochar cycle (see graphic). By withdrawing organic carbon from the cycle of photosynthesis and decomposition, biochar sequestration directly removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
This is the tree as it grows. About one half of the carbon dioxide uptake results in additional carbon atoms in biomass This is when biomass dies and becomes detritus : such as leaves and tree death This is due to microbial breakdown of dead biomass – 95% in one to twenty years
Pyrolysis and Carbonization convert biomass into biochar: one half of the carbon atoms are released as volatiles and one half converted to biochar The volatiles contain carbon atoms that the tree removed from the atmosphere as it grew = carbon neutral A minority of biochar is slowly oxidized by soil microbes; the majority is stable for hundreds to thousands of years
Mobile Matter – due to stimulating soil microbes, which complete for nitrogen
Resident Matter – because it contains the
Cation Exchange Capacity
If you google the phrase “Characterizing Biochars”, you will get directed to: http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/Characterizing_Biochars Where you will find a downloadable 8 pages on: Characterizing Biochars prior to Addition to Soils By: Hugh McLaughlin, PhD, PE Alterna Biocarbon Inc. January 2010 Yes, not a coincidence – this Hugh McLaughlin ………….
Some charcoals are good biochars, some are BAD – and all need to be tested
You can make it
For “gardening”, TLUDs work best
The other approach is “Retort” processes
Equipment is coming to the market – slowly
Example: Adam Retort – about 350 kg/batch
Whether you make your own biochar or purchase it from a supplier, it is a buyer-beware situation. Biochar currently has the same quality controls and regulatory structure as “Snake Oil” enjoyed in the 1800’s. Remember, biochar corrects deficiencies in existing soil-crop combinations, so the biochar has to be matched to the situation.
H-1. Charcoal burners were a strange breed, living a lonely life in the forest, like wild beasts … At its best, making charcoal was not for any normal human. The time required for charring a small mound varied from one to two weeks, but with mounds 30 feet or more round, a month was average. During all that time, through every kind of weather, the charcoal maker lived with his mound, sleeping only in dozes for fear a flame might start and explode into a full fire which would demolish the mound. There was no time for washing; there was seldom more shelter than a bark lean-to. Any Volunteers for running a Earth mound Kiln?
Commercial operations require larger equipment and regulatory approval:
This is a developmental “Chicken or
the Egg” – Nobody makes them
because nobody wanted them
The Mobile Adam Retort c/o New England Biochar
BIOCHAR DEMONSTRATION This demonstration is being allowed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for demonstration purposes only. Please be advised that the installation and operation of Biochar equipment in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may be in noncompliance with the Massachusetts air quality regulations. If you are interested in pursuing the installation and operation of a Biochar unit in Massachusetts, please contact your local MassDEP office for guidance. As posted at NESFI, Nov. 14, 2009, “A Biochar Demonstration Day”
Regulation of the Disposal of Wood Waste Amended by the Board of Health on November 19, 2007 “ Wood Waste disposals are prohibited in the Town of Groton.” (prohibiting the burial of wood waste refuse materials in the Town of Groton)
After the ice storm of December 2008, the Town of Groton decided to get into the wood chipping business. They enjoy an abundance of raw material and no apparent outlet……
Turning 180 degrees, for the view from the Front Yard
Another 90 degrees to the left, the view to the West.
Summarizing: Recycling Biomass into Biochar permanently sequesters about one half the carbon atoms in the biomass when it dies. Towns currently have a major biomass management challenge – with systems for collecting biomass, but not returning it to the ecosystem. Biomass to Biochar devices are currently only permitted as “On Farm” or “Homeowner” activities – for personal use and outside commercial endeavors. Regulatory status is “undetermined”, since practice is new to the current regulatory and environmental guidelines.