Introduction

A documentary video website of how people can scale some big ideas down to action in their personal lives.

The first “Big Idea” is biochar.  Biochar is biomass (plants, wood, dung, ) in the absence of oxygen so that it becomes pure carbon, like charcoal.

Making, and using, biochar offers practical and available solutions to three global problems:

  • Climate change and global warming
  • Hunger and starvation
  • One of the 4 main causes of death for children under 5 years old — and often their mothers — through poisons from indoor-cooking smoke.

The Story of Terra Preta

Before we start on our adventure, let’s watch one, a movie made by the BBC about El Dorado,  the Lost City of Gold in the Amazon.

Sit back and watch the show in full-screen by clicking the small box on the extreme right side at the bottom of the player.

To give some perspective on the scale and location of terra preta sites, here is a link to a map of sites.

“More than half of the world’s population—three billion people—cook their food and heat their homes by burning coal and biomass, including wood, dung, and crop residues, in open fires or rudimentary stoves. Indoor burning of solid fuels releases dangerous particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other toxic pollutants, and releases greenhouse gases into the air. The resulting indoor air pollution levels are 20 to 100 times greater than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality guidelines allow. Unfortunately, the health risks and threats to the environment are on the rise: the International Energy Agency estimates that 200 million more people will use these fuels by 2030.

A Biochar Corn Harvest

A fallow field, one half remained fallow and the other half tilled in with biochar. And then we left the field untouched for 2 years. We did not add any fertilizer or pest control. Just left it alone. We ran the disc harrow over the land and planted some sweet corn on the whole field.

You can see the difference below, filmed in real time.

Terra Preta Today

As of now, terra preta has come out of the closet of history and scientists and has been recognized as a mitigant for climate change and for enhancing agricuture.  A growing list of links and resources is on this website.

Significant current research on Terra Preta is conducted at Cornell University by a team headed by Dr. Johannes Lehmann.

An example of biochar on the farm:

 

Burning Smoke: Gasification

Let’s play with fire — and learn from it!

Gasification is central to understanding the efforts to produce smokeless and safe stoves for cooking with biomass fuels as well as making biochar. In layman’s terms, it means using heat to drive off the components of biomass that are not carbon and heating them in an air rich environment so that they burn and leave the carbon behind. So you are literally burning smoke and generating lots of heat. A primary supply of heat to drive out the volatile materials of the wood as smoke and a secondary supply to ignite the smoke.

Dirk-Jan built a gasifier to evaluate the grass pellets he produces and to assess how much slag and ash they produce.  It was kludged together with scrap parts he had lying around his shop and is certainly not a production model but it does illustrate how to burn smoke.

We have been taught to light fires from the bottom of the wood pile but in this video the fuel was lit by from the top while the hot air came from below. This gives the stove the name Top Lit Up Draft, TLUD.

When the fuel is lit from below it completely burns the fuel above it rather than just creating smoke. That leaves ash instead of the carbon in the form of charcoal, the desirable biochar. Pronounced “B-LUD”. The fuel is ignited from the bottom and up until a certain point generates a lot of smoke.

The TLUD has the advantage of producing biochar while it is being used as a cooking stove. TLUD has the advantage of producing biochar while it is being used as a cooking stove.

Here is a diagram to help with the terminology of the TLUD.

As I wanted to make a video that would illustrate how gasification actually burns “smoke” in order to produce heat, we ignited the fuel through a port at the bottom of the stove to generate lots of smoke and then lots of heat. If we had lit the fuel from the top, it would have been smokeless. This same stove works in two different ways: as a TLUD and as a BLUD. Pronounced “T-LUD”. The fuel is ignited from the top and is essentially smokeless.

A diagram by Paul Anderson of the TLUD gasifier stove.

The Biochar Workshop at Pony Farm

This is an introduction to the Biochar Roundtable at the Lodge at Pony Farm in Temple, New Hampshire, on May 9, 2009.

Before we move on. let’s watch Hugh McLaughlin demonstrate some TLUD stoves he makes with scrap tin cans…

If you want a more graphic illustration of how the TLUD does not burn the fuel but rather the gases that have been driven off the fuel, here is a video I made showing lots of smoke being burned off.The next demonstration produced charcoal with a retort made from a recycled Cornelius keg.  I’ve taken the liberty of assuming that most people looking at this site would not be familiar with the Cornelius keg. In the following video, Hugh explains what it is and how to convert one as an excellent and affordable retort.

The kegs have been discovered by the home brew beer set and they might be driving the price up.

And now for the keg in action as a retort for making charcoal from wood scraps.

You will see more videos of the Cornelius keg because Hugh gave me one to experiment with.  I can hardly wait!  This more fun than the old Gilberts…  (if anyone remembers!).

Dr. Thomas B. Reed is going to show us his technique for making charcoal with inspiration from Jack Daniels.

Really.

Watch.

Tom modified the Jack Daniels “rick” for a technique for making a home brew. Of charcoal, of course!

Wonder if it works?  Check this out:

Hugh McLaughlin’s Stoves

The next demonstration produced charcoal with a retort made from a recycled Cornelius keg.  I’ve taken the liberty of assuming that most people looking at this site would not be familiar with the Cornelius keg unless, of course you are part of the home brew beer fraternity. In the following video, Hugh explains what it is and how to convert one as an excellent and affordable retort.

Now let’s see it in action!

There will be more video about the Cornelius keg because Hugh gave me one to experiment with and I can hardly wait!