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Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Six Steps Making Char
The short answer is making, moisturizing, micronizing, mineralizing, microbes and maturation. The next six posts will review what is meant by each of these terms. If there are editorial comments or questions, please let me know. It will make a lasting difference. Always, always, always, remeber that quality works by example and invites reciprocation. Making Char This first step in creating of biochar. In essence, all you do is heat dry plant material to between 450 and 500 degrees F (230-260 C), basically making it glow, without allowing air to get to the reaction site. This process is called pyrolysis. When the material glows, it changes form and makes it like more like fired clay, than wood or dirt. when vitrified, ut becomes permanent in the environment and not subject to degradation. Charcoal has been made around the world, throughout human history. When human beings learned of the power of char, and how it is turned into biochar is still a mystery. It is well established that as recently as 2,000 years ago, humans were making it and some tribes and cultures still use this practice in modern times. It is sad that intact cultures are referred to as primitive, because they are often far more scientifically advanced and sophisticated than that term implies. Utilizing biochar is one of the indicators of a highly advanced agriculture. My tool of choice in the matter of making char is a retort, a basic scientific instrument designed to allow heating and vapor release, without introducing oxygen (air). Typically, the retort has but one opening to allow gasses to escape, mine actually has three, but they can be closed during cooling. Here is a schematic view of a retort. Below is picture of my old retort in use and I have made other types of charring equipment as well. It is important to understand all the ways to do this step, so you can pick the one that suits your needs, available resources and needs. In my classes I discuss at least five types of charring techniques, the pit or flame cap, build and bury, similar to how much char was made before the fossil energy revolution and the current infatuation with liquid fuels; retort, of course, because it is my preferred method, the can within a can (which pretty much explains itself) which could also be called a retort in a chimney, and the TULD, Top Lit Up Draft. The method you choose varieties depends on how much you are making, what materials you have available and how pure you want/need to make your char. In addition to teaching facts about biochar, making and using it, I try to get across a feeling, or attitude of appreciation and the desire to teach and share with others the ancient miracle that is biochar. Making char requires nothing more than a basic popcorn, cookie or cracker tin. Just pop a few holes in it to release the gasses and fasten the lid on with self-tapping pan head screws, then char away. You can even use dry garden clippings, woody yard waste or herb stems, any dry woody debris will do, as long as it is completely dry. Typically, I just put the whole container right in the fire pit while enjoying a camp or bonfire. At first, the container smokes a little, but then the flammable gasses come off, making pure clean flame. When that flame dies down, and disappears, even if you shake the container around, it is finished. Lay it on a surface that won't burn with the holes you poked facing toward the ground to smother off as much air as possible from getting into the container. When it cools, it is ready to start processing. Beware though, wood and sawdust, or organic material is a good insulator, so the coals may stay warm for several hours or more depending on how large a container you use. This retort is made from a Cornelius keg, it holds five gallons of material (I prefer dry sawdust) and reduces to approximately one kilogram of material. Making char from sawdust eliminates the need for micronization, because the pieces are small enough to be used without further smashing into powder. A typical firing of a retort like this takes about three hours with dry sawdust used for the feedstock, or parent material. The value of this will become evident in later posts. (see Micronizing) As in nature, stacking functions is the key to increased efficiency.