[Gasification] Biochar et al.

David Murphy djfmurphy at dodo.com.au
Sat Dec 7 22:15:13 CST 2013

Joe, you might find it of interest to look up John 
D. Hamaker on the net.  He was an American 
Mechanical Engineer who turned his mind (and 
subsequently devoted his life) to improving soil 
by the addition of rock dust.    He saw global 
warming as a precursor to the next ice age.  He 
saw an ice age as essential refurbishment of the 
earth's resources.     His argument has a lot of 
good solid logioc to it and it's worth adding to 
your store of knowledge on the general topic.     
If he's proven right, then we're in a lot of 
trouble !    If you want to study it further I 
have a DVD I made from a tape he produced I could 
let you have.

Rock dust is a storehouse of minerals, all of 
which are essential to growth.    First to plants 
and then to the animals which eat them - including 
us humans.   Rock dust is insoluble to water but 
not to enzymes which are produced by soil 
benevolent bacteria - bacteria which are present 
in soil with good OM and in compost.     Many 
readers of this string will be aware of it's 
benefits when used as fertiliser.

Seeking to remedy climate change purported to be 
caused by anthropomorphic global warming is an 
extraordinarily complex question.   And seeking to 
make a contribution by sequestering carbon as 
charcoal is in itself another complex range of 
issues.     The charcoal must be first ligneos 
carbon - wood - and it is probably almost as good 
to lock up some of that carbon in timber for 
building houses or making furniture.

I'd promote the first step by making the 
sequestration of the carbon as part of a broader 
program of building building soil organic matter 
OM.   This includes animate carbon as well as 
vegetative.     At least get it up to 5% to plough 
depth, say 10 inches (250mm) as a minimum, aiming 
at 20%.   That in itself locks away a lot of 
carbon, but of a different nature, in that it's 
available to contribute to plant growth, growth 
without the need for chemical or artificial 

Every 1% increase in soil OM (world wide) would be 
a lockup of around 30 billion tonnes of carbon in  
a world which generates now (probably) 20 million 
tonnes annually.    Just for the record, the 
biggest emitter of CO2, bigger than every other 
agency combined - every factory, airplane, car 
truck tractor etc and so on - is the soil of the 
earth as it respires.    So, the more land we put 
down under crop to feed the increasing billions, 
the more CO2 we produce and put into the atmosphere.

So, it's a race against a proven runner - so 
called mother Nature - and she's a proven stayer.

On the other hand, some of the wise owls are now 
saying it's not CO2 at all, but PCB's causing the 
damage.   Maybe they're right - who knows _for 
sure ?_    Nobody I'm aware of despite what they 
say.    It's all conjecture, some of it soundly 
based, but still conjecture relying on historical 
info compiled over a geological blink.

Using charcoal and zeolite together is a bit like 
wearing belt & braces with self-supporting 
trousers.     It certainly works !

The easy and less costly way is to just get the OM 
into the soil and plant stuff to grow and suck up 
all the CO2 and N.

But whatever you do, don't stop the good work.

David Murphy.

On 08/12/2013 12:33 PM, Joe Barnas wrote:
> Thankyou for the insightful overview of biochar 
> and comparative functionality of Zeolite, of 
> which I was not familiar.
> However one thing I am focused on is how to 
> address catastrophic global climate change and 
> for that having billions of gardeners 
> sequestering carbon, while building healthy soil 
> and hence healthy food is not something that 
> Zeolite can provide.  It is another tool in 
> growing food, yes, but let's not lose sight of 
> the long term benefit of promoting biochar.  I 
> might even try mixing some with biochar just to 
> gain the N adsorption benefits.
> On Fri, Dec 6, 2013 at 2:00 PM, David Murphy 
> <djfmurphy at dodo.com.au 
> <mailto:djfmurphy at dodo.com.au>> wrote:
>     Greetings Biochar/Gasifier people !
>     Everybody & his dog seems to have something
>     to say about
>     charcoal/biochar/biochar-compost mix and so
>     on.Well, here's another dog to bark his piece !
>     Biochar is often seen as the great
>     agricultural panacea, but _it is
>     not_.Biochar is a name given to plain
>     ordinary charcoal to indicate that it is
>     destined for use in soil improvement, but
>     basically it is still plain ordinary
>     charcoal, just crushed into smaller
>     particles. In some circumstances it is a
>     very beneficial tool but it is not magical
>     as some proponents seem to think. Just
>     remember, all charcoal has a bio-origin - wood.
>     In some Ag. trials in Australiait
>     significantly improved crop volume (treble
>     in one case) but in other instances, nothing
>     worth writing home about.It depends on what
>     the soil is like to start with.
>     Charcoal is stable.That means it does not
>     take part in any composting system (which is
>     one primarily of bacterial digestion) and it
>     is indigestible so that when offered as a
>     dietary supplement (in poultry food for
>     example) it passes through the digestive
>     system physically unchanged but will adsorb
>     a high proportion of the gases and some
>     toxins produced in the process of digestion,
>     because that is what charcoal does. For this
>     reason, it's adsorption capability, poultry
>     will generally do better on a little charcoal.
>     Quite a few pages could be filled on the
>     beneficial services provided by charcoal as
>     it travels through the digestive system, but
>     it does it as charcoal only and as nothing
>     else.   By all means use a little in the
>     feed, you can only benefit.
>     The only physical way to change the nature
>     of charcoal is to burn it.    That is why it
>     lasts in soil (or wherever it is) for
>     thousands of years.
>     It has an incredibly high surface area of
>     360 m^2 (varies) and is a mass of minute
>     tunnels which in turn means a very high
>     volume and gases become trapped in these
>     tunnels.It does not _ab_sorb, it _ad_sorbs
>     and traps only.The difference between absorb
>     and adsorb is the same as the difference in
>     liquids of suspension and solution.Clay
>     particles will be in suspension, sugar and
>     salt go into solution.
>     Charcoal is useful in an aerobic composting
>     system because again of the entrapment of
>     air in the tunnels.A composting system goes
>     well if there is enough oxygen bearing air
>     available to the bacteria which are a
>     significant part of the system.The more air,
>     the higher the population of bacteria (other
>     factors being OK). The charcoal itself is
>     inoperative, and doesn't change, nor is it a
>     catalyst, it simply provides a service. It
>     will only provide a haven for soil
>     benevolent bacteria if there is something
>     trapped in the tunnels which the bacteria
>     can eat.
>     Charcoal is a good adsorber of gas and
>     liquid simply because that is what it
>     does.Zeolite on the other hand, can have an
>     even higher surface are per gram and has a
>     propensity to entrap gases, most
>     particularly nitrogen in it's various forms
>     -- as gas -- ammonium for example -- and in
>     liquids as a salt of NO_3 .It actually draws
>     them in (like a magnet attracts ferric
>     objects) where charcoal just takes it as it
>     comes.    It is easy to see also why
>     charcoal is so effective as a filter, but if
>     you have a solution rich in nitrogen, run it
>     through Zeolite and the N will be removed.
>     Add some to the litter in poultry grower
>     sheds, there will be fewer mortalities
>     because the ammonia which sometimes will
>     asphixiate small birds will be absorbed.
>     Zeolite will take N out of solution,
>     charcoal will not.    There's 40 natural
>     forms of Zeolite and more than another 150
>     can be synthesised, so choose carefully for
>     the one most appropriate to your problem.   
>     Zeolite can perform an amazing range of
>     actions.    Once used and applied as
>     fertiliser, Zeolite subsequently will
>     release the N slowly and remain in the soil
>     as a balancer of N.  Too much, it will take
>     it in (so that the soil pH is not lowered)
>     and release it as required.
>     Charcoal's great stuff though, it's easy to
>     make and holds answers to a lot of problems
>     - but not all !
>     David Murphy.
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> -- 
> Joe Barnas
> Portland, OR
> 541-525-1665
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