Albert Bates: Visit to the Biochar Makers

Erin Rasmussen

Today Chris fired up his own creation, which took an oil drum (with Texaco logo still intact) and a butane tank with the bottom cut off. Total cost, including welding & machining labor, was US$40. He stuffs the inner chamber (inverted gas tank -- the top handles serve as a stand) with guadua (bambusa vulgaris) -- great for the cellular structure -- and the outer chamber with woody scraps from the farm as he limbs trees, opens trails, etc. It takes about 20 min from the time he fires the barrel to get up to pyrolysis temperature, at which point the smoke coming from the barrels ignite and the burn is pretty clean. He puts food for his pigs -- breadfruit, chocho, bananas -- on top, to use some of the heat (it comes to a boil in a minute or two), but I have to say there is still a lot of waste heat that would be good to find some uses for.

The nice thing about this rig is that it is so simple and easy to operate that it can be used every day by either the farmer or his wife or son. Chris throws the bamboo-char into his pig pen for the pigs to pulverize. They ate it the first time, which was even better, but haven't eaten it again since.

It would be nice to see some follow up with those large kilns up in San Antonio, and Chris says he would use one if it could come up to MMRF by dory. We have some other perma course graduates spread out around Belize, up near Orange Walk, and in Aguacate, who are farming cacao and other integrated polyculture and would be able to use these, if you'd like recommendations. My sense from talking to the people in the TCGA office in PG that they didn't have much appreciation for what the retorts were, how they fit into the greater organic scheme, or what to do with the biochar.

Best to you,

Albert Bates

"Be fruitful and mulch apply."
-- Keith Johnson

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