Pinecone Biochar (PCBC)

I have just returned from a three day conference on Biochar in Amherst.

We humans are furiously digging or pumping all the hydrocarbon fuels we can reach by mining, drilling and fracking and adding it to the atmosphere as CO2 through our chimneys and exhaust pipes. These fuels were sequestered below the surface over the last 400 Million years. They certainly make current life comfortable.

But putting all that old carbon back in the atmosphere as more CO2 is expected to cause global warming, since CO2 is a “greenhouse” gas, passing sunlight in, but not allowing the heat radiation back out.

The only countervailing activity for humans is to put charcoal back in the soil:

  • Charcoal in the soil can double plant growth by providing a home for microorganisms, and nutrients that would otherwise wash away.
  • Each ton of charcoal added to the soil prevents 3.7 tons of CO2 from returning to the atmosphere.

I have recently found that dry PINECONES are a particularly handy source for making charcoal. When opened out, their petals burn easily to make uniform 1-2 cm discs of Biochar 1 mm thick.

Several times I have stopped my car beside a pine grove, and in less then 10 minutes collected several trash bags full of dry PINECONES. I convert them to Biochar by piling them up on a wet newspaper and lighting the top few cones with alcohol or a propane torch. The cellulose in the cones burns with a lean, smokeless flame, leaving the charcoal from the lignin. They make very pretty black cones.

pinecone-biochar-oct-2013

After they are all converted, the steam from the papers puts out the fire. I then step on the cones to reduce them to flake size, and I collect the flakes in bags for use in my gardens.

If farmers would do this with the trash left from producing corn etc., it would go a long way toward balancing our driving/heating production of CO2, and increase their crop yield.

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