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Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 18 posts ] 
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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Sat Dec 10, 2016 3:28 pm 
After some five years of research and development, building and testing prototype gasifiers, and delving into the market potential for biochar, we (Bill Knauss and I) are ready to launch a startup company to manufacture and sell biochar making equipment and to set up and support small businesses in hundreds of locations to make biochar.

I am starting the process of soliciting people to participate in operating the business, and people to invest in it. In keeping with the "local' ethic that I have been promoting for quite a few years now, I'd like for this business to be a model for how it can work. I don't have all the details worked out, partly because endeavors like this are evolutionary, and partly because we hope to stay away from the standard model of a strong hierarchy and have more of a worker owned co-operative. We have formed an LLC named The Trollworks for the company, and a rough business plan with some pro forma projections has been done.

I any case, we need real business management skills on the team, which neither Bill not I have much strength at. Let's have a bit of conversation about it here and then I will set up a meeting to start getting hands dirty. Here is a short summary of The Trollworks recently submitted to a right-minded venture capital company:

The Trollworks LLC (TTW) is a research and development company doing product development and innovative equipment fabrication in the fields of restoration forestry, ecosystem rehabilitation, wood products development, clean energy, and carbon soil sequestration.

Our “Big Idea” is about a business driven carbon farming system that can be described in hashtag shorthand as follows: #carbonsequestration, #freecleanenergy, #healthysoil, #localism, #forestrestoration, #ruralmanufacturing, #savewater, #replacefossilfuel, #regeneration; #commons.

TTW is currently working to commercialize and manufacture several inventions in biochar production and use, to serve a community sustainability model. The company works with a wide network of practitioners in the field of ecological restoration and has focused R&D on solutions that work for smaller, rural communities in creating leveraged triple-bottom-line business opportunities. Using a collaborative franchise-like model, the company plans to sell biochar production systems to thousands of small producers and to create a support network for biochar production, marketing, and use.

Our motto is, “Transforming environmental liabilities into assets”; TTW works to solve environmental problems on multiple fronts, leveraging many partial solutions into a greater whole. The first is related to feedstock acquisition using low value biomass from forest restoration thinning projects and other agricultural wastes. Such biomass is currently an environmental liability - costing money for disposal and adding smoke and CO2 to the atmosphere when burned. Adding value to liability biomass will help to support more restoration work. Second is in the production of biochar, which releases approximately half of the heat value from the feedstock while preserving 60% of it’s carbon as biochar. When utilized, the heat can displace large amounts of energy currently derived from fossil fuels. Third is the use of biochar to add carbon to soil ecosystems, improving biological health while conserving water. Biochar in the soil is also a means of sequestration that lasts for hundreds of years. Also, biochar has properties similar to activated carbon that make it useful for cleaning polluted water.


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 Author: LaChozaDeColores
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2016 8:55 am 
Thanks for the post and good luck with the project, Gordon! For those not yet familiar with biochar, I've been using a prototype stove built by and borrowed from Gordon and Bill. This sturdy, compact metal unit is used outdoors, instead of our old propane stove, to simmer a large pot filled with natural plant dyes and wool yarns. The colorful results end up at Hosana Eilert's Wild West Weaving Gallery in downtown Silver City. One load of cracked pecan hulls burns for almost four hours. The biochar we produce in this way is FABULOUS when added to our garden compost - sequestering the carbon and enriching the soil What a thrill to have the fuel for our weekly dyeing projects provide nutrients for our vegetable plots, native plants, and fruit trees!


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 Author: sh1
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 12:00 am 
Sounds promising, Gordon. Question -- did the use of biochar as a construction material not pan out? You don't mention it in this write-up. Shelby


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 8:09 am 
Shelby - we have been working on four biomass based products since about 2004; Zerosion (an erosion control material), Chipcrete (a wall building material), mulches (including composted woody biomass), and now biochar. Before that the focus was entirely on using biomass for fuel (the pellet plant and the Ft. Bayard boiler), but we learned that combustion of biomass solely for energy was not all that advantageous for the environment or to the economy.

When large scale commercial logging began to decline in the 1990's (due mostly to global economic conditions, not environmental regulations), an opening for "forest restoration" emerged. There was a pretty widespread consensus that 100 years of misguided management of forests (big tree logging, heavy grazing, and fire suppression) had converted a large percentage of forests to too many small and crowded trees. Our version of forest restoration, which reduces catastrophic fire risk and improves ecology and watershed function, is to cut and remove the trees that we think would have been removed by natural fire over the last 100 years. The reason that Gila WoodNet was created was to figure out the best way to remove those trees and what to use them for that would create the most social, environmental, and economic benefits (the triple bottom line). Our mission is about trying to mainstream the triple-bottom-line business model into our local economy. It's not been easy...

None of the biomass products we have worked on are defunct (in fact, they all pencil out as potentially profitable), but they do not rise to the level of biochar, for one reason or another, for triple-bottom-line benefits. Particularly in the "saving the planet" category.

Something the recent election has shown us quite clearly is that our government for the next four years (at least) is not going to do anything positive about the environment or social conditions, and it is probably going to trash the global economy (which is pretty much smoke and mirrors, anyway). My own opinion is that even if Clinton had gotten elected and Congress had swung fully to the Democrats, that the trends would have remained negative, just not as steeply so. The stark fact is that what we need to do is progress, not regress at a reduced rate. We need to engage in proactive measures as individuals, and realize that political positions, even when they are seemingly working (they are definitely not, now), are not enough (not advocating abandoning the political scene, here, please realize).

Making a business out of biochar is the most promising avenue to making a real difference the the global triple-bottom-line, implemented on a local basis, that I have ever come across. I'll outline the reasons below.

Global warming: one of the major contributors to atmospheric CO2 is our farming practices - plowing and artificial fertilizers - which have released tens of tons of soil carbon per acre over time while reducing productivity and increasing water use... not to mention that such farming methods consume large amounts of fossil carbon through fuel use and petrochemically derived fertilizers. Biochar provides a way to regenerate healthy soils through re-establishment high carbon levels.

Fresh water consumption: low carbon, unhealthy soils use up to four times more water to be productive. We know a lot about water around here, thanks to the AWSA debacle. It costs money to use water. It drains aquifers and ruins waterways to use water. The Colorado basin is fundamentally "out of water" (over allocated) and the fighting over it has been going on for decades. Consider this - agriculture uses something like 80% of the Colorado basin water. If that was cut to 20% because of farms regenerating their soils with naturally high carbon content, how valuable would that be to us and the planet?

Energy: the process of making biochar - pyrolysis - releases 50% of the energy that could be gotten by complete burning, but preserves 60% of the carbon as biochar. Building energy in the U.S. represents 40% of the total energy consumed. Home heating, especially for the poorer among us, can be 20% of annual income. One scenario I analyzed for a coastal village of 500 population in SE Alaska, where the primary home heating fuel is diesel and the heating season is long, showed that 50% of incomes went to fuel. If those homes converted to biochar making devices, they could avoid importing $1.2 million in diesel every year and export $2 million in biochar. That economic swing represents some 20% of their total economy. That is an extreme case, but even in the apparently frivolous scenario of backyard barbecuing, a person can make money while cooking (biochar is worth 5-10 times as much as the 'feedstock'), and sequester many pounds of CO2 in the process.

Food security: I already talked about soil productivity, but this also means more food produced locally. Using David Johnson's IP methodology (some of you listened to David's presentation about his compost derived soil inoculant last year - we plan to charge our biochar with his inoculant, which can turn apparently dead soils into highly productive ecosystems in a short period of time). We can become significant food producers, and not just in the Gila and Mimbres river bottoms.

The poor: people without much money often have excess pressures such as paying a high percentage of income for fuel and food, and an inability to implement conservative measures (poorly insulated dwellings). In third world countries, cooking is often done over open fires. Biochar making technology can be very basic, and provide clean, free fuel while producing a valuable product that can be personally used or sold. Bill and Border Partners have been working on a project in Palomas for five years.

Polluted water: biochar is very similar to activated carbon, which is an excellent filter for water. Simple filters made using biochar can make polluted water potable. It also has characteristics that attract and hold heavy metals that pollute mine wastewater and runoff.

Bill and I have built prototype biochar equipment that can do everything listed above. Many people are working on the advancement of biochar around the world. This is a technology that, right now, is not a priority of the multinational energy and chemical companies, but I assume they will be moving soon to dominate it. Dr. Johnson has been approached by Monsanto. Our best hope is to develop it as a local force, replicated in thousands of communities so as to be very difficult to be monopolized. The big players have made a few runs at it, as I heard at a U.S. Biochar Initiative conference in Oregon last August. Two $20 million regional scaled plants were attempted but failed because their focus was only on making big money in big markets. Biochar is, in my opinion, best done at a widely distributed small or micro scale.

What we need right now are more motivated partners to pitch in with either business experience and skills (management, accounting, capital raising, manufacturing, education, research, marketing), or financial investment.

This is not a nonprofit solicitation for donations. This has the makings of a robust and replicable business - we want investors.


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 8:48 am 
What we need right now are more motivated partners to pitch in with either business experience and skills (management, accounting, capital raising, manufacturing, education, research, marketing), or financial investment.

I left out "organizers and people to use and validate biochar" from the list of partners needed.


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 Author: lastnoel
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:21 am 
I worked with Bill in the early years of development, even funded a prototype and went on a couple sales calls with him. I introduced microbes into the farming world of Deming (EM) and Cruces and worked with David Johnson on various projects.

It is a sound technology whose time has come, especially the inoculation of the bio char with David's microbial combinations. The problem is of course finding a market and providing a product to serve it. I like your dispersed model, the hemp company I work with in Colorado has a model that is similar - provide 1000 cuttings and everything needed to grow the plants on less than an acre. Cost $1000, income at end of a good season $100,000. They hope to sign up 1000 small organic farmers this next year. They produce the best CBD oil in the world at $100 a gram and plan to clone 1 million plants.

I would see the thrust of the effort going to small communities with established small organic growers, a farmers market and a recognition that our traditional food system is so fragile, that it will not take much to empty the shelves in the market in days. Imagine growing onions in Deming, shipping them to California and then shipping them back to Albertson's in Las Cruces. So I would focus more on saving people than saving the planet.

One Ag solution we developed was using ozone in Dairies. Although we could show the owner savings of $50K monthly, if not much more, we got little interest. We eliminated antibiotics, the hospital barn and very sick animals, no one really wanted to give it a chance - too new and it is not what my daddy did. By the way, dairies would be ideal because of the need for hot water (clean up) and healthy soils to grow the feed.

If it were me, I would focus on small household units that would heat the house, provide heat to dry produce, make hot water and generate biochar. EPA is already banning wood burning stoves so the regulatory overhead will be sever. Offer other tools that run on the gases, generators and engines (conversion kits), pumps . . . . third world kinds of tools as we are headed in that direction and need access to 'Whole Earth Catalog' kinds of resources (remember it?) changed many lives.

The world economy is ready to take a nose dive and aside from a magical 'Jubilee' things are going to get very 'basic' I believe that if they let Trump assume the mantle of leadership, they will hand him economic collapse or perhaps a nuclear war - or both. To say nothing of the coming pole shift and Planet X. So it is best to get ready for SOMETHING (change) and understand that out Govt. is not going to be around to bail us out or pick up the pieces.

Some of Davids contacts might be very interested in these units because his protocols and biochar go hand in hand. My contact # is 575-571-5817. Give Bill a hug for me the next time you see him. Thanx!

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach."
--- Clarissa Pinkola Estés Ph.D


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 Author: JimK
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 3:39 pm 
I am interested in what you are planning. I admit that I am a skeptic right now after spending 30 years in the bioenergy industry. Did you see the Biochar article in a recent issue of "Biomass Magazine?
Keep me informed.


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 5:32 pm 
JimK, Can you provide a link to the Biomass Magazine article?


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 5:34 pm 
lastnoel, Bill says hi back. Thanks for the informative post. I'll call soon.


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 Author: JimK
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 7:09 pm 
gordon, here is the link to the biochar article
http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/138 ... oil-savior


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 7:23 am 
Thanks for the link, Jim. That's an interesting article. Tom Miles, the consultant who was quoted extensively, is the guy who told me about the two $20 million failures. Cool Terra is one very large company that is not doing well.

Here is an article from Resilience (an online site that sends out an assortment of articles every day). This one captures the sort of community that I envision The Trollworks supporting:
http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016- ... o-soil-age


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 Author: Kevin B
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:42 am 
I have some questions. We periodically get a fire going in our firepit out front and sit around it while burning up scrap, mostly old construction lumber and tree trimmings. The next day mostly dry ash is left in the bottom, but there's usually some only partially burned off material left over as well, what look to be bits and pieces of charcoal. Are those pieces biochar? If so, is it useful as a soil amendment as is, or does it need to be ground down, and to what extent, to powder, granules, chunks? If it were added to compost, at what ratio would the final mix be optimum and would that mix be best tilled into the soil, layered in, or more effectively used as just a cover? I suppose a different way to ask this last part, when biochar is added to irrigated crop medium does it tend to sink into the ground, float out, or stay neutrally buoyant in the soil? And after its been used for one growing season, how should it viewed thereafter, like any other composted soil or does it remain more or less viable than ordinary compost? And lastly, in composting discussions I've participated in it's pretty much consistently agreed that black walnut (of which we have plenty) must never be allowed anywhere near ones compost pile. Does this caution need to be observed when making biochar as well or does the burning process "purify" (to grab a word) the wood of its cyanide like constituents?


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 12:58 pm 
Kevin, the charcoal that is left is biochar, though created under inconsistent conditions its quality will be variable. You can use it, probably best to break it into 1/4 - 1/2" crumbles. Biochar dust works just fine in the soil, but it can get fine enough to lodge in your lungs if you breathe a bunch of it (think 'black lung'). Biochar is basically chemically inert, its function comes from an astounding amount of microporosity that works as a kind of "housing" for microbes, nutrients, and water that are accessible to roots and microbes but are sheltered from leaching out of the soil or dehydration. A healthy soil is a very diverse and active ecosystem, working as a complex factory to obtain raw materials from the air and mineral soil, and breaking down detritus. Biochar can be compared to the factory buildings and worker housing.

For our purposes, it never goes away. It is really lightweight, but doesn't do any traveling in the soil on its own. It is best to "charge" it before use, which can best be done by mixing it at maybe 10% in your composter. I don't know of any definitive ratio to mix with soil that would be the optimum - I'd say right off that there wouldn't be much point in going beyond 10% in the root zone of the soil. Over time the soil factory will take over and continue to add carbon, both inert and labile, taken from the atmosphere and transported sometimes tens of feet deep via roots and mycorrhizal fungi. In Dr. Johnson's IP method, a high fungal compost is used to inoculate soil and green manure crops are then grown for several years, without plowing (plowing just destroys the soil civilization, and everything has to start over again). So adding compost is not necessary after the process is begun because the soil factory starts making its own compost from the green manure. At five years, he has measured about 5 tons of carbon sequestered per acre per year with no fertilizers or other amendments.

As for walnut, I don't know anything about the chemistry, though I would have guessed its plant toxicity to be due to tannins, not cyanide, which will chemically change when turned to smoke and then burning the smoke. The carbon from pyrolyzing is quite pure, though some residuals can remain - it's entirely possible that any toxic metals would stay bound in the biochar because of its tiny electric charge (one of the reasons it is good for treating toxic mine water). We have had the biochar we are making tested at Sandia Labs and they are well below thresholds for toxic residuals. I suspect the levels of anything that is bad in walnut would end up at such low amounts as to be inconsequential. Remember, natural rotting and disintegration of wood is essentially a really slow version of pyrolysis.


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 Author: Kevin B
PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 12:29 pm 
Gordon, thanks for your reply and great info. We have a lot of trees on our land and basically ongoing trimming and tree removal. Every tree or limb I cut I evaluate for its potential as construction material. If it can't serve that role I look at it as being either a post or a fence rail. If it can't do that it becomes a stake or firewood. If it doesn't make that grade it goes through the shredder and becomes mulch. I'm all about maximizing the value of our wood so every piece I cut ends up serving its most useful purpose. If we can figure out how to still enjoy sitting around a fire with a beer and good conversation while converting scrap wood into biochar rather than ash, that solution will offer up a whole new level of value we've been missing out on. In addition this Spring we plan to start soil work for a new crop growing project we have in mind. So, thanks for bringing this up.

For you or anyone else who might be interested, the problem with black walnut is Juglone. As the Warnell School of Forestry puts it, "Juglone is so toxic only minute amounts can sicken, sedate, or kill people and animals. The concentration difference of Juglone between that needed for sedation, and that causing death, is small. Juglone disrupts oxygen and food use in both plants and animals, a respiration poison. Juglone is like cyanide in its effect on people, animals, and plants."
http://www.warnelloutreach.org/publicat ... 011-10.pdf .

For horses the ASPCA cautions that toxicity is, "usually due to exposure to shavings in bedding; as little as 5% black walnut in bedding can induce a toxic reaction." http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-po ... ack-walnut .

Meanwhile Wikipedia notes, "Juglone is occasionally used as an herbicide. It is highly toxic to many insect herbivores." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juglone . - In fact we use it that way, as a natural herbicide. When I shred up a bunch of black walnut we scatter out the mulch where we don't want weed growth.

It's also useful in judicious quantities to eliminate intestinal parasites. "For thousands of years, black walnuts have been used as parasites control properties in various parts of the world." http://www.newhealthadvisor.com/black-w ... sites.html .

And interestingly, the University of Maryland Extension says, "Juglone does break down when composted. If black walnut leaves, twigs, or nuts are used in compost to be spread in a garden, the compost should be aged at least one year before being applied." https://extension.umd.edu/learn/toxic-p ... ack-walnut . I had not heard that before, black walnut compost can become safe with adequate aging, and that being the case I can imagine Juglone not being able to survive burning. Assuming that's true, black walnut might actually serve as good ingredient for biochar since the wood is so dense. It does make good firewood. Of course that would also add importance to your statement, "the charcoal that is left is biochar, though created under inconsistent conditions its quality will be variable." Which could be very bad, at least where black walnut is concerned.


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 Author: lastnoel
PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2016 10:43 am 
Good info on the Black Walnut, thanx!

Next time you have an open fire, get some garden soil, enough to cover the fire. Light it up, crack a few cold ones and before it burns all the way down to when the flames dance and the coals are solid red, cover the whole thing with the garden soil and open in a couple of days for the charcoal (biochar), break it up (just the black, leave the white) and put it all back into the garden.

Sounds like you have enough feed stock to run your own biochar digester. Bill has built a number of models. Biochar is only one element in a holistic effort to raise the organic percentage of the soil. I have both of Dr. Johnson's papers, the one on organics and another on how to build a no turn composter. Send me an email address and I'll send it to anyone who wants a copy. lastnoel@hotmail.com.


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2016 7:29 am 
Here is David Johnson's latest white paper on his "Intensive Production" (IP) process:

http://web.nmsu.edu/~johnsoda/Carbon%20 ... ulture.pdf


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 Author: sh1
PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2016 9:42 pm 
Johnson's paper is exciting. Is this kind of project being pursued elsewhere? Shelby


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 Author: gorwest
PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2016 9:01 am 
There are many biochar efforts going on, though it is hard to know what kind of success they are having. Virtually all of the farm productivity effects are anecdotal, though widespread. SE Asia has more happening than we do.

Dr. Johnson's soil carbon theories are also becoming 'popular', though his approach of accelerating the regeneration of soils through fungal dominant inoculums and green manure cover crops appears to be unique. "Soil food web" is one term in use that describes the complex ecosystem of healthy soils. Our interest in using biochar as a distribution vehicle for such inoculums also appears to be unique.

Perhaps the key piece is in our wholistic, or lifecycle, local community strategy of integration of the various parts of the process: raw material sourcing (ecosystem restoration activities), distributed production (spreading the benefits to everyone, not hoarding them under one dominant corporation), and cooperative marketing of the biochar into more restorative actions (soil health, water conservation, toxic pollution cleanup, carbon sequestration). That integrative approach wrings the maximum triple-bottom-line benefits from the system and disrupts our current corporate/capitalist economic system that supports oligarchic machines.

I want to convene a meeting of everyone who is interested in this stuff for the purpose of stimulating community consciousness about the biochar possibilities and, as stated in the title of the topic, growing a biochar business from Bill and my beginnings. Would anyone like to volunteer to help schedule and organize a general meeting?


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