Biochar when burning wood is good

first_imgIn Cyprus, we use a lot of charcoal – to grill meat. But KTV Green Enterprises, a company based in the mountain village of Kambos, suggests another use for charcoal – to prevent pollution, and increase crop yield, water conservation and electricity production. It is, however, not the same charcoal we use for our grill.While charcoal as we know it is good for burning, biochar – short for biological charcoal – has different qualities, and is mainly used for burying in soil, not burning.“Biochar is created by collecting dead wood waste from the forests and burning it. This tidies up the forests for the local communities as well as providing local employment,” one of KTV’s directors, Marian Papasolomontos explained.Some people may have doubts. Can burning wood even be a good thing? In the UK, legislation banning certain types of wood stoves is being prepared. As part of its Clean Air Strategy, the government proposes to ban the sale of polluting fuels and ensure only the cleanest stoves are sold by 2022.“Although barely discussed, the evidence is shocking: just one of the latest ‘eco-friendly’ wood-burning stoves – those meeting all European tests – can produce about six times more particle pollution than a modern diesel lorry, or 18 times more than a modern diesel car,” the Daily Mail reported on January 29, reflecting the concerns of the UK public.Wood stoves apart, burning wood invariably means felling trees and is not a practice environmentalists support.Biochar is different. It is not created by using an open fire, but a process called pyrolysis. The difference being that no oxygen is involved, and nothing can escape from the closed retort kiln, so there is no pollution.A retort kiln in which biochar is produced“Think of it as cooking kleftiko,” Papasolomontos said. “You have to seal the oven and the heat and pressure cook the meat slowly. You do the same with the wood.”When the process is finished, the wood has become oil, synthetic gas – known as syngas – and a type of charcoal – biochar.The syngas and oil created by the pyrolysis in the retort kiln can be used to fuel the process, so no extra fuel is required.As the black substance was once a plant, it contains a high concentration of the nutrients that plants have and when mixed with soil these are added to growing plants.But because of its porous structure, it also increases the sites to which nutrients latch on. They then release the nutrients back into the soil.In other words, the charcoal forms a layer around the plant which contains all the nutrients, so that the plant has only the best to choose from.“Like steroids, pumping the good at the plant,” Papasolomontos explained.In addition, the layer retains water.As the company director said, it is produced by using organic waste such as fallen branches, and other wood waste from villages.The company have enlisted the help of community leaders and villagers to collect the waste and bring them to a collection point.In Cyprus, the company argues, there are also areas with trees which are too close together, and they need to be thinned.“After 1974, a lot of trees were planted, and now, 45 years later, they have grown and are fighting for space. In some places seven out of 10 need to be removed,” said Dave Garnett, KTV’s managing director.“If they are not removed they will simply die. Often the presence of too many trees is the real reason for a big forest fire. It is a problem of neglect. The forestry department doesn’t have the resources to do something about it.”Might this be something the director said to justify the felling of trees?Andreas Christou from the forestry department of the agriculture ministry says he is right.“We agree with them,” he said. “Pruning is better than trees burning down during the summer season. We cannot help them directly because we have to follow procedures but soon we will soon be selling them biomass.”The Green Party also agrees with the biochar idea.“Biochar is a great way of creating energy and can help to naturally fertilise the soil, without the use of chemicals. We hope that biochar will help deal with the oncoming desertification of the island, by offering solutions to the depletion of the flora of the island, and by ensuring that organic, green waste is utilised to the fullest and is recycled back to earth instead of just being incinerated uselessly,” deputy head of the party Efi Xanthou commented.Pruning and thining overcrowded trees make a good source of biocharCommunity leader of Pyrgos, where the business has its first kiln, is also happy with the operation, saying the village and three or four others in the region will do what they can to support it, as they believe it is good for the region.It remains to be seen if it is profitable and viable. Problems are that in many cases villages are nearly deserted, and there are few people who are around – and physically able as most are elderly – to help collect wood.Bureaucracy also hampers the progress, and it takes time to convince people that this is really a good idea.KTV at least believes it can and will do much with the porous charcoal. They already sell it to agricultural companies for mixing it with plants. It can also be used to filter water from reservoirs, turning it into drinking water by removing any impurities, to treat sewage and to generate electricity.All of which the company will do with the help of paid workers, volunteers, the forestry department and also, in one case, a bishop – the bishop of Tamassos with whom they are working to collect sewage from a rural area.There is a powerful argument for biochar use, which is that it has successfully been used for thousands of years in the Amazon. Amazonian inhabitants added it along with other organic and household wastes over centuries to modify the surface soil horizon into a highly productive and fertile soil called Terra Preta.But biochar does have its critics.“In the same way biochar binds nutrients, it has been shown to bind organic pollutants. This could lead to concerning accumulation of pollutants which otherwise flow through soil, says the website mindthesciencegap.“Biochar has the potential to disrupt the way in which pesticides degrade in the soil. This could lead to increased uptake by plants, or in a worst-case scenario, help to generate pesticide-resistant insects, weeds and fungi.”And Almuth Ernsting and Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch argue that many of the claims made for biochar don’t stand up. “In some cases charcoal in the soil improves plant growth, in others it suppresses it. Just burying carbon bears little relation to the farming techniques that created terras pretas.”KTV for one is sure biochar is the answer to many of our troubles, at least locally. “Local agriculture is dominated by outdated practices which are harmful to the environment and contravene EU and global standards. Crop fertilisers are currently expensive, polluting and heavily reliant on water which is a scarce commodity,” the company says. “Using biochar can allow for water savings of up to 50 per cent, reduce chemical fertilisers and pesticides by 40 per cent and increase yields by up to 120 per cent.” KTV website May LikeLivestlyChip And Joanna’s $18M Mansion Is Perfect, But It’s The Backyard Everyone Is Talking AboutLivestlyUndoPopularEverythingColorado Mom Adopted Two Children, Months Later She Learned Who They Really ArePopularEverythingUndoYahoo SearchYou’ve Never Seen Luxury Like This On A Cruise Ship. 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