[Gasification] Biochar

Big Daddy bigdaddy at offgridpro.com
Wed Mar 27 15:38:16 CDT 2013

Tom (et al),


A little side note… 


I am in the middle of my quest to produce the “best” soil possible. Last year, I tested a small plot (4’ x 4’) with inoculated biochar, using actively aerated worm compost tea (36 hour brew). I mixed in 5% of the inoculated biochar into some compost and ran my experiment.


I didn’t see huge gains in yield, but I did see a “greener” plant and less pest problems vs. the comparison plot. Now, the control plot was also using a deep compost bed, so I speculate that both areas were already going to do well. Had the comparison been between a dirt plot, I suspect the result would have been much more drastic.


However, I’m at the point of comparing very similar, optimal soils, looking for the slightest increase in yield, health, color, taste, etc.


My latest formula is as follows:


·         80% wood chips (Ramial chips)

·         15% spent mushroom compost (low salt variety)

·         2.5% glacial rock dust, volcanic rock dust (micronized)

·         2% inoculated biochar

·         .5% amendments (bonemeal, chicken manure, etc.)


Everything is organic, and I use very little organic fertilizer. Please note this is a “no till” method. I do not till anything into my soil, as the wood chips, compost, and biochar will rob nitrogen. Plus, you lose those beautiful air pockets that wood chips provide, and root systems love.


My results last year were fantastic, and I wasn’t including rock dust into the equation. This year, I’m going big, and have already prepared 1 acre with 18” of this mix. (caveat: only one small section has biochar, as I couldn’t afford to buy or make it in quantity)


Here is an interesting link on a long-term study of biochar + rock dust:



If anyone is interested in my wood chip progress, you can follow my blog. I’ll be posting updates throughout the year (please excuse the site, it’s brand new and incomplete):






From: Gasification [mailto:gasification-bounces at lists.bioenergylists.org] On Behalf Of Thomas Reed
Sent: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:53 PM
To: Ralph Voss; Discussion of biomass pyrolysis and gasification
Subject: Re: [Gasification] Biochar


Dear Ralph


Surprisingly, pyrolysis is not the hard step in making charcoal from wood!  It's getting dry wood.  Today I took a bucket of scrap wood and put it in my electric oven at 240F.  I set the timer for 4 hr, and I put a potholder in the door so the oven could "breathe". 


I discovered there's an easy way to determine that the wood is bone dry:  every time I cracked the oven open to see whether the wood was "done", my glasses fogged up with steam instantly. At 3.5 hours now,  there is very little steam, but I'll let it go the full 4 hr to make sure.  


I anticipate that the bone (oven) dried wood will practically explode if I pyrolyse it with full access to air in a Pyromid.  So I will do half that way and half in the bucket with a chimney-lid where I control the rate of air addition (and gas combustion). 


Thinking more about the drying process, I think I could leave the oven closed because the oven has a chimney, (under one of the back top elements)  and once the oven is full of steam the evaporation will force the steam out that hole.  If I put a plate on top, I think I can just look at the plate bottom to see if all the water is gone.  


Did I show you the Jack Daniels "Rick burning" charcoal making?  Elegant!  



It will be a while before I try that.  


I am puzzling about how to size the charcoal once made.  It is reasonably weak, and so, easy to crush, and then put through screens.  I could drive my car over it.  But maybe I should saw it to size, since there is obviously an optimum size, depending on the application.  I "spec" (speculate, anticipate) it will saw easily.  


I spec that for agricultural purposes you would like thin wafers, exposing the maximum amount of end charcoal which will be  much more  porous than the side charcoal.  

Thomas B Reed 

On Feb 12, 2013, at 4:13 PM, Tom <tombreed2010 at gmail.com> wrote:

Dear Ralph


Give my best to"cousin Roger" And send him my answer by Email if you have his address. I hope you aren't disappointed in my answer.


Everything you said below sounds good to me, and I wish i had a better supply of what I'll call the "secondary" ingredients.


The one jewel I have to add is "autopyrolysis". Most people think Charcoal has to be made in kilns, but I can put you in business today much more simply. 


If you look on the web under 

"WoodGas Stove Pics", you will see dozens of variations on the Toplit Updraft stove I invented in 1985, after seeing the dreadful cooking of the blacks on South Africa. 


If you take a cylinder full of woodchips, pellets or other biomass,with holes near the bottom and much larger (X5) holes near the top, and light it ON TOP with IPA or kerosene or tinder, the top layer will burn leaving charcoal, then ignite the second, third etc. until all the fuel has converted to charcoal.  With a 1.5V fan you can get a really beautiful, intense, clean burn. Without the fan, you still get a pretty clean upper gas flame and a can full of charcoal. 


If you make a tight pyramid of small sticks and light it on top you'll wind up with a pile of charcoal.  Put a wet newspaper under the pile, and the steam will extinguish the charcoal when the last layer burns. 


I have measured the flame temperature in the can or pile at 500-600C. Most charcoal is made at 400C. 


I am running growing tests this sping to see whether 500C charcoal is better or worse than standard 400 C charcoal. I'll keep you posted, and I look forward to hearing your experience. 


Yours for better agriculture and climate with charcoal. (One of charcoal put in the ground keps 3.7 tons of CO2 out of our atmosphere.  It is the only action that is global warming positive.


Yours for better ag and air...


Tom Reed

>From Tom Reed




Dr Thomas B Reed

508 353 7841


On Feb 4, 2013, at 5:28 PM, "Ralph Voss" <vosssouthpolls at gmail.com> wrote:


                Greetings from central Missouri.  You cousin Roger gave me your name.  Both Roger and his former partner Harvey Buhr (who is my cousin) tell me your the man I need to see about biochar.  So here goes.

                I know very little about biochar.  I read a few pages in the book 1491 that covered terra preta.  I read a two-page article you wrote with three other gentlemen.  Other than that, I know very little.  I’m a soil fanatic and want to know more.  I was delighted to see that you recommend mixing biochar with compost.  I’m going to a three-day compost school at the Rodale Institute in Kujtztown, Penn., later this month.  I already spray our pastures with raw milk, molasses, liquid fish, liquid kelp and several other amendments.  I’m delighted with the results.  I have a number of friends that use compost tea very successfully and while I’ve sprayed a little tea, I’ve not done much because I’ve not had any confidence in my ability to make good compost.

                If you don’t mind giving a neophyte a few pointers, I’d like to hear from you. 

                I save links to articles I like.  Pasted in below is the link to the article I found when I googled your name. 




Biochar – Dr. Tom Reed


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