At biocharprojects.org we have developed what we call the 6M's of biochar supercharging the first four Ms were developed by David Yarrow which are a great start but we realised it was other parts missing and we created the last two so basically and in a nutshell.
The first M of making supercharging biochar is making you need to make the biochar.
The second M is moisturise so we all know that charcoal once dry is very inhospitable place we want it loaded full of goodies so the best thing to do to your biochar first is to moisture with water.
The third M is micronising so basically we're crushing it into small pieces. The biggest piece of biology in the soil is the earthworm and scientists believe that the earthworm has an average mouth size of 2 mm so we try and crush biochar 4 mm and smaller. Making it easy for microbes to move into it.
Think of Australia are with at 21 million people in Australia but most of these people only live on the outside edge of the continent- where the water is- if we broke the continent into real teeny spots like two islands you would fit so much more people on the land mass- it’s the same with biochar; the smaller you crush it, the bigger the surface area.
Also, just as with soil particles you don't see big clumps of soil particles either, so by crushing the biochar to the size of the soil particles, biochar blends in easily.
The fourth M is mineralisation- every plant on earth has different feeding needs that it prefers. Most of this feed comes in the form of minerals, others come in gases like nitrogen- but we’re mainly talking mineralisation- so the reason we are saying that you need to learn mineralisation for yourself is we're not sure what your ground is going to be like or what your plant nutrient need is. Once you know what your soil and plant's nutrient needs are you can easily fill your biochar full of minerals that is needed for your property.
The fifth M biochar is microbial inoculation- now that we already have a substrate- a charcoal with millions of holes like honeycomb, moistened with water and there is enough room because the substrate is crushed down small enough for a microbe to make the journey from one side of the piece of biochar to the other and then into the wild. There is water, food and oxygen there- just about everything that a microbe would need to survive and multiply- so with microbial inoculation, we are introducing beneficial microbes into the biochar. It's a careful balance between aerobic and anaerobic microbes. We won't send you supercharged biochar because most of the microbes could be dead by the time it gets into your garden. So like mineralisation, it's important to inoculate the biochar with your own species of microbes.
The sixth M of biochar is maturation- the integration period where you need to wait for the microbial activity to start in your biochar. It's a highly neglected part of biochar cycle where people expect biochar to act like a fertiliser in the garden. However it's not necessarily the immediate effects, but in five years time were you start to get big yields, once biochar has integrated well into the siol. Look at our website for testimonials of biochar users were productivity has been slow to increase to start, but increased dramatically as the biochar has integrated.
The first part is making the biochar- we would prefer that you made your biochar because then you get to understand the concept and secondly, you too can be an ambassador for biochar. Learning to also supercharge your biochar is an important part of making it for yourself. This could be as simple as making the biochar and dropping into a bucket of urine, or making your own brew from worm castings and organic compounds that are just perfectly match for soil type that your are planting in.
There is no one size fits all for biochar- what we innoculate with doesn't necessarily produce the same results through different soil types and growing conditions. So making it, trialling different types of innoculation for yourself is part of what we are encouraging.
What do you sell to people to help them make their own biochar?
On our website we have the plans for our award-winning biochar maker called “The T-lud Stumpy”. We think it's important that we give the plans for as close to free as possible. Any person with just basic skills are in welding can follow our step-by-step PDF and make himself their very own T-lud stumpy- that we otherwise sell for $250 plus for.
At the moment, the men of the men shed are selling and making this stumpy at a price they're happy to keep manufacturing for.
We have a system where- for every Stumpy burner sold, the men's shed donate a Stumpy to a charity of their choice in another country- through this system, we are currently sending Stumpy's to Vanuatu and Zimbabwe.
T-LUD is a formal description for gasification. It stands for TOP LIT UPDRAUGHT. It's a configuration of a stove that's been made in a fashion to be lit at the top, pulling its draft from down below and creating a vacuum, using the pyrolysis front of the material burning downwards toward the oxygen to create biochar.
The Stumpy is the name we gave because it is made out of recycled LPG gas bottles- it really just looks like a stumpy gas bottle with a with an exit chimney on the top. It's quite a good piece of engineering and is being tested many many times for the best flow of air and biochar for your wood. It has safe handles, so it can be easily relocated, and it's also a combination rocket stove.
We used to replace the traditional open fire, you can avoid burn injuries, the lung cancer associated with cooking around smoke and it is extremely efficient with minimising the amount of wood needed.
In addition to these multiple use values, we're also recycling decommissioned LPG cylinders that would otherwise be going to landfill.
The Moxham burner is a low tech, lowhe biochar project and we named it after our mentor Geoff Moxham who died in 2009. It allows for large scale- all day, all night burning to produce hundreds of litres of biochar.
It is a big pipe that doesn't have a bottom doesn't have a top and is set firmly on the ground so ther is no air-flow from the bottom. We putty it into place with sand and clay to make it airtight. We start with a fire inside and feed it slowly. The pr-cost, low emission farm scale biochar unit. It was the brainchild of myself and others in tocess of the burn is includes a 'soaking period' to make sure that every volatile is removed and at the end of the process the charcoal is spread into a very thin layer to remove all the heat so you do not have to use a lot of water to put it out.
This method produces a very high-grade biochar with almost everything burnt off, resulting in two and 9% – new biochar.
The burner is something that you it's robust enough that you do not ever have to repair it, and modular enough that you could and so many more things to it like cook, heat water, capture wood gas, wood vinegar or capture heat to perhaps create electricity.
All of this can be without compromising our emissions that are released. This has been proven through scientific testing done during one of our all-night burns. The emissions were found to be the same as a single cylinder diesel engine at idle- ie less than a regular car!
It's very similar to pottery kilns.
To get a pottery kiln to temperature, you slowly bring it up to heat, once you get to that heat- say 1500°c you soak it at that heat flow for 3 to 5 hours or overnight. The soaking period means that same heat is applied across the biochar for the duration of that time to make sure that there is no water there is no volatiles. There is no nothing that can be evaporated out above the 600 to 700°c mark that is polluting. Once above that temperature, a fast pyrolysis biochar occurs, at this heat the biochar is really fast- around 15 seconds. So we spend most of our efforts in the soaking period to ensure every last residual is removed so were actually giving you the most sterile biochar.
A lot of local farmers know that I do biochar because I've studied with them and run regular presentations. But at the moment, to most farmers, biochar is too expensive for large scale use, so the focus is on other growers outlets.
We now sell directly to farmers choice organics in the nursery industry.
We also sell directly to Brisbane organic growers, Redlands organic growers and Gold Coast organic growers which are all urban based agricultural networks.
Smallholders tend to buy directly off us or at the weekly farmers markets.
Black magic is a pro-enteric aid, meaning that it is meant for human consumption and it's made from hemp organically grown on our own farm at Hill of Abundance. We chose hemp because it is also medicinal in its living nature so our esoteric studies show that is also our beneficial in its dead nature (its opposite nature). The char particles of the hemp are so soft that it has no chance of rupturing or scratching any of the internals of our people that might be ingesting at home. Compare this to coconut husk from regular charcoal you buy from the pharmaceutical is is says on their label not to use this continually as it can cause intestinal tract discomfort and so that is a different feedstock and a different grade of charcoal.
That char that goes into the ground is a different feedstock again, made from hardwood sustainable plantation timber from here at the Hill of Abundance and it is cooked to perfection without anything toxins left in it- and graded 4 mm or below.
Black cow, Black goats and Black cat are all differen size grades of this hardwood char with an added ingredient to each to make it more palatable for each of the different animals such as molasses for cows and catnip for cats as an example.
We're currently looking for organic farmers who are willing to do all the science needed for a yield trial. We will supply free biochar to a farmer who can set aside existing production with biochar ammended production. Following the 6M's we will scientifically go year after year to find out if the areas with biochar ammendments are performing higher than the other parts of the same paddock. It will involve routine soil tests, but we're certain that once the proof is in, that productivity can be dramatically improved with the addition of biochar in combination with microbes.
We're also aiming to make the whole biocharring process, the technology, the tools, as accessible and as low cost as possible so that everyone can become their own biochar makers and masters.
Biochar is simply charcoal used as a soil enhancer.
It can be activated, that means populated with beneficial microorganisms, or not.
It is mostly made of carbon, assembled in an intricate structure, resulting in an extremely porous material. This gives biochar it's incredible surface area that accounts for most of it's fabulous properties.
Did you know - 1g of biochar has the equivalent surface area of a football field.
As a comparison, biochar can be seen as a super microscopic sponge, able to absorb and release water, minerals, microorganisms, heavy metals etc.
Housing for microorganisms
The biochar's pores are as many living spaces of the microorganisms: beneficial bacteria, fungi, algae, yeast, protozoans... These microorganisms live in close relationship with the plants, exchanging nutrients and sugars. The more microorganisms you have in your soil the healthier your plants will be. So biochar is a great habitat for microorganisms, creating a fertile living soil. Microorganisms in the soil are the key to fertility. Putting biochar in your soil is like providing them to whole cities of 5 Star hotels.
Water and nutrient reservoir
These pores not only look like a sponge but act as one. They are able to absorb excess nutrients and water and release them later when the soil is lacking them.
Capture heavy metals
Biochar has the ability to capture heavy metals making them less available for the plants. Very useful to have in your veggie patch.
Improve soil quality and fertility
The more carbon in the soil, the more fertile it will get. Carbon is usually found in the soil in the form of humus, the combination of soil particles and organic matter. It has the exact same benefits: increasing the water and nutrient retention as well as a good environment for microorganisms. However humus eventually breaks down and is very sensitive to any soil disturbance (tilling, sun and weather exposure). Biochar however will last in your soil for 1000 years.
Adding fertility to your soil in this manner is also a great way of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere to the soil, reducing greenhouse gases and playing it's beneficial role to increase yields instead of polluting the air.