We have the ability to produce a wide variety of biochars with our horizontal bed kiln, ranging in process temperature from sub 300° C to 750° C. Our modular post-pyrolysis processing systems can apply a wide range of treatments, including a simple water quench, a light acid wash to increase initial cation exchange capacity and decompose any residual poly aromatic hydrocarbons, nutrient impregnation, steam activation, and particle size reduction.
As discussed on our rationale page, the structural characteristics and biochemical properties of biochar affect its performance in a given application to a very significant degree.1 2 Hence the term “biochar” describes a family of diverse products rather than a single thing.3 4 To produce biochar for a given need, whether it is to increase soil fertility, maintain livestock health as a feed amendment, remediate contaminated soils or act as a filtration medium, the pyrolysis process must be variable and precise, and the biomass feedstock must be appropriate. Each particle of biomass must receive the exact same heat treatment, and the operator must be able to customize that heat treatment and the post-pyrolysis treatment, so the biochar particles produced have the properties needed for the application.
If biochar is used to increase soil fertility, we recommend that it be prepared to emulate humic matter as it is in soil. Why? Simply because the soil ecosystem and agricultural plants have evolved together to provide plants the ability to obtain nutrients from soils rich in humic matter. Scientific characterization of biochar is important as an initial step, but biochar needs to be deeply integrated into the soil ecosystem for it to optimally improve soil fertility.
In our view, biochar research that simply focuses on analyzing the char in an isolated way rather than seeking to understand how it can best be integrated within a soil ecosystem misses the point. Such research, confined to the borders of a laboratory, may be peripherally useful, but it doesn't offer a practical way forward. It is somewhat like analyzing the composition of a sign marking a path in the forest after pulling it up and hauling it back to your lab. The point is to follow nature's lead in enhancing soil fertility.
Wood vinegar, also known as pyroligneous acid, is a byproduct of our horizontal bed kiln. Our precise, staged pyrolysis method extracts wood vinegar from the condensates of the gases emitted up to 280° C. Research has shown that this is the ideal temperature range for wood vinegar to be used for agricultural purposes.5
Wood vinegar contains over 200 organic compounds, including acetic acid, methanol and furfural. It is widely used in Asian countries as a plant growth and germination stimulant, an insecticide, fungicide, and at high concentrations, an herbicide. An amazing amount of in depth, open access research has been done on a wide variety uses for wood vinegar in Asia (see 6 for example), and much of it is freely available in English via Google Scholar.
Chemical pesticides and herbicides have significant, widespread environmental impacts and unintended or undesirable side effects. They affect non-target species in 95% of the time, tend to degrade slowly, spread through runoff into streams, rivers and lakes, leach into the water table, and are blown by the wind to neighboring areas, either when they are sprayed or upon evaporation.7 A study by the US Geological Survey found pesticides in every stream and over 90% of the wells sampled.8
A growing awareness of the negative effects of chemical pesticides has generated worldwide interest in using wood vinegar as a biological substitute.9 Research has shown that wood vinegar is highly biodegradable10, has a positive effect on soil microbiology, and is of low environmental risk.11