Fatboy Gasifier in Israel

Nadav from Israel lives in a kibbutz close to the Dead Sea. Nadav and his mate Ahmed have developed a Fatboy Gasifier using recycled local materials, a pressure tank from an old hot water system and a 44 gallon drum. They are still tweaking the unit and working to get the air flow and gas burn working well. The latest photos Nadav sent showed the unit running cleanly and producing biochar. Some of the early photos below show smoke being produced from the unit, with some tweaks and feedback from myself,  Nadav now has a starting point of low emission and Biochar creation. They have given the unit the Hebrew name ‘Shmendrik’ which is Fatboy in Yiddish language.

Fatboy Gasifier in the UK

I have been working with David Friese-Greene from the UK on developing the Fatboy Gasifier for the UK and Indian markets. David is involved in the UK with the Soil Fertility Project which is working with SCAD who is a Social Change and Development non-profit non-governmental organisation in Tamil Nadu, India.

After trialling the UK’s first Fatboy Gasifier David hopes to make the units available in the UK for sale, with the income from these sales he hopes to develop a project to bring the units design to India for local manufacture and roll out into grass roots village applications. We have also been discussing a roll out into area’s of Africa once the Indian project is under way.

I am extremely excited to see all my years of development work now evolving into this expanding open source project.  If you are interested in getting involved, supporting our projects or making your own unit, please contact myself here >>>>

I hope to get David’s updated plans uploaded soon.

These are my three major versions to date.

Fatboy One >>>>
Fatboy Two >>>>
Fatboy Three >>>>

Update from David.

“Searched out some 25% moisture feedstock and look what happened – she worked beautifully and clean. Did a second burn and had a barbie, same result – and we danced around the fire!

Char was good, no smell or taste and washed off with cold water. Operated at about 700 to 800 deg C at condenser.”

Just a quick note on feedstock. While 35% moisture will run in the unit it will run much slower, at 25% or lower you are in the desired range for this style of system. The unit also needs a uniformed feedstock like wood chip or mulch as this allows air flow from the bottom primary air which feeds the hot char bank as it travels downward, this puts the above hot freshly charred biomass into a smokey oxygen-less environment, so it stops it’s combustion. A uniformed feedstock also stops any sparks or embers from dropping to the bottom of the unit and starting to char there, which would put the above un-charred biomass into an oxygen-less environment, not what you want to happen. You can add some chunky dry matter like old beef bones or chicken bones, you can horizontally layer dry branches up to 20mm thick as long as the gaps around them are filled with dry chip of mulched material. I try to avoid large amounts of leaf matter and feed stocks like hay or chaff as these can produce too much volatile  off-gas that can over whelm the unit and you will lose your volatile gas combustion and just produce masses of white smoke.


Supporting Biochar development?

I have to say I was dismayed after reading this article. Australia’s federal governments climate change bureaucracy waste of financial resources is unbelievable, this money should be going into on ground farm research and helping to develop practical engineering solutions. Australia’s support of clean carbonisation technology to date is an industry joke. Sounds like lots of carbon is going up in smoke in Canberra with no carbon reduction or biochar being produced. =)

For those who may not understand how biochar production can be an all round carbon reduction and financially beneficial technology. I will try to quickly explain a best case project.

If I was to install a continues pyrolysis unit at an existing industrial complex.  This complex produces a woody waste product, has a high nutrient waste water and has an expensive gas/power bill from heating requirements. We can process onsite, taking this woody waste and cleanly converting the mobile carbon into fixed carbon quality biochar which will permanently improve soil quality, reducing water and fertiliser needs. During the process to make the biochar our self fuelling low emission system produces MW’s of free heat energy. The complexes waste water is used the quench the biochar absorbing it’s nutrient load. So is this smart technology that could be rolled out and exported?  Well we have already exported it, but to date our home ground take up or support of the technology to date has been painfully slow with a vacant space for federal or state support.

As someone who has put years of unpaid work, my life savings, blood, sweat and third degree burns into developing one of the world’s leading biochar companies. Reading about the waste in Canberra is frustrating to say the least.

Please note this is my personal option. =)

South Australian No-Till Farmers Association research

This is a really interesting story about the work SANTFA is doing. I believe Greg Butler and SANTFA are doing the most useful board acre work anywhere. They understand biochar and how it needs to be blended, they have been getting some great results from smart lateral thinking. I have to add a lot of the Uni and government funded research I have seen to date has been less than useful and in some cases totally pointless.

WIDESPREAD BENEFITS: SANTFA research and development manager Greg Butler said that biochar had many benefits but producers needed to consider what they would want to use it for and the type of soils it would be applied in.

Here is the direct link to the story on www.theland.com.au >>>>

As a side note Greg Butler now has my Fatboy2 Gasifier which he was using on different feedstocks. Some ran better than others. =)

Torgoch Biochar Project in Wales UK

The Torgoch project began when we learnt of a disease affecting over 1,400 hectares of woodland in Wales. Phytophthora ramorum is a fungus-like pathogen in plants. In 2010 it was found to be killing large numbers of larch trees, usually where they were growing close to infected rhododendron that spread pores from their leaves in damp conditions. It can kill trees within one growing season after its presence is first detectable, and there is a cluster of affected sites in the Swansea area.

Click here for an overview of the project >>>>

Black is Green mobile biochar demonstration unit

Lakeland College and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) with assistance from Western Economic Diversification Canada and industry support have developed the Alberta Biochar Initiative. The ABI is intended to develop and demonstrate technologies that will enable the large scale commercial deployment of biochar products and biochar applications for the benefit of Albertans.

Black is Green developed a mobile demonstration unit as part of this innovative project. The below Youtube video is a system walk through of the finished 1200m BiGchar unit.

Western Economic Diversification Canada website has more information on the project >>>>

Link to project partners

Alberta Biochar Initiative >>>>

Alberta Innovates Technology Futures >>>>


Alberta Biochar Initiative (ABI) Ribbon Cutting

Just a quick update with a photo from the event.

Since the pivotal stakeholders workshop led by AITF in October 2011, ABI has been formally established and has demonstrated its capacity with two mobile demonstration scale biochar units and two new full time technical specialists. We invite you to come celebrate our progress and help develop a value added commercial biochar network in Alberta.

Director of Black is Green Dr James Joyce will also be speaking at the event which showcases Black is Green’s BiGchar 1200m mobile continuous rapid thermal carbonisation technology.

For more information on black is green click here >>>>

Dr. Julie Major from McGill University and Mr. Lloyd Helferty from Biochar-Ontario will be present at the event to deliver the keynotes.


The afternoon seminar will explore the fast changing terrain of biochar development in Alberta and around the world. Representatives from major industries, universities and colleges and policy experts in Alberta will join these sessions to discuss the current state of the art and the opportunities available. Participants will be encouraged to share their ideas on how we can collaborate to accelerate the commercialization of biochar in Alberta.


ABI- A Brief DescriptionABI was established by the collaboration between Lakeland College and AITF with assistance from Western Economic Diversification Canada and industry support. The ABI is intended to develop and demonstrate technologies that will enable the large scale commercial deployment of biochar products and biochar applications for the benefit of Albertans.


Preliminary Agenda

9:00  – 10:00 – Registration and Networking
10:00 – 10:30 – Welcome and Alberta Biochar Initiative Updates
10:30 – 11:30 – Ribbon Cutting Event
11:30 – 12:00 — Luncheon and Networking
12:00 – 12:30 – Keynote Speaker – Julie Major
12:30 – 1:00 – Keynote Speaker- Lloyd Helferty
1:15 – 2:15 – Session 1- Biochar Product Development
2:30 – 4:00 – Session 2- Biochar Policy and Economics
4:00 – 4:15 – Concluding Remarks

Registration is FREE and lunch will be provided. 

For more information contact:
Alok Dhungana
Coordinator, Alberta Biochar Initiative
T 780 853 6241
F 780 853 8704

The keynote speaker: Dr. Julie Major

Dr. Major’s scientific background is in agronomy (B.Sc., McGill University and M.Sc., Cornell University) and soil science (PhD, Cornell University 2009). Her PhD work concentrated on the effects of biochar application to field soil fertility, hydrology and carbon biogeochemistry, over the long term. In 2009 and 2010 she worked as the Agricultural Extension Director for the International Biochar Initiative, where she provided content for the website and documents including technical bulletins, guides, white papers and research summaries. As an independent consultant Dr. Major has collaborated in writing books on biochar aimed at scientific audiences as well as farmers and gardeners. She is also involved in designing, carrying out and reporting on biochar field trials in Quebec and elsewhere. She also works as a Faculty Lecturer and Academic Advisor at McGill University in Montreal.

The keynote speaker: Mr. Lloyd Helferty

Lloyd Helferty is a freelancer, entrepreneur and a biochar activist. He is the founder and president of Biochar-Ontario, is the Steering Committee coordinator of the Canadian Biochar Initiative [CBI], and is an Advisory Committee member of the International Biochar Initiative. Most recently Lloyd co-founded a national consulting team called the Canadian Biochar Consortium (CBC), and has been active in helping to prove the value of biochar in a Canadian context.

Lost carbon?

I have come across a few news articles referring to research which is suggesting biochar applied to agricultural soils will act in the same fashion as char created from wild fires in forest areas. That this material is dissolving and washing into water ways.

Charcoal and other forms of black carbon do not, as previously thought, stay where they are buried. They migrate to the oceans and recirculate the carbon they contain.

First I would like compare forest fire char to that which is made in temperature and oxygen controlled environment such is one of the many commercial units I have had the pleasure of operating.

Depending on the climate and moisture content of the wood stored in the forest, some will be green while some will be dead and dry. Forests eco-systems are extremely good recyclers of woody carbon meaning forests generally have a limited supply of dead dry with less than 20% dry material.  Forest fires like all fires are a complex chain of chemical reactions. The heat generated at the tree top will be higher due to avaialbe oxygen, the fire close to the forest floor will have less heat due to lower amounts of available oxygen. What this all means is you will end up with a complex mix of material, high heat chars and low heat char with high levels of ash as the feedstock keeps burning or low temperature smouldering until it runs out of fuel. Much of a forest fires char residue will contain high levels of volatiles as the feed stocks would be green moist wood and and wood not be exposed to high enough temperatures for long enough to drive off the volatiles, This is quite easy to test as a simple smell test will confirm if the char has a burnt volatile smell or not.  Low temperature chars with high volatile levels are in general hydrophobic. Meaning they float and can simply wash away if exposed to heavy rain events which forests are extremely good at generating.  It could take quite some time for the natural forest system to cover the char with leaf litter  and start breaking down the volatiles.  Much of the post fire growth flush seen is due to an increase in ash, not char.

Now compare this to a commercially made biochar using a temperature and oxygen controlled environment. In general the biochar created for soil applications are classed as high temperature which is over 450 degrees Celsius. The Biochar I produce is always in the 550 degree Celsius range. This means the volatiles are driven off and good quality biochars are wet quenched meaning the biochar is fully hydrophilic and will sink if dropped into water. This also means when it is applied to the top soil profile that soil biota will quickly bind and lock onto it’s complex porous structures.

If biochar is applied correctly and pre blended with nutrients and beneficial biology it will rapidly absorb into the soil with very little loss if high rain fall events were to occur. Also if biochar is applied in smaller amounts over time as part of a normal farm soil improvement program Biochar erosion would be negligible.

As biochar is not currently applied in large scale anywhere the assumption that it will act in the same way as forest fire char is nonsense.

New Zealand Tree Workshop


29th- 30th April, 2013

The Te Whangai Trust on the Kaiuau Coast is hosting two days of hands on workshops and discussions on the use of trees in novel ways.
Te Whangai Trust is an econursery growing native plants, and was developed by trainees learning new skills to help them find jobs. Te Whangai was a winner of the 2012 Social Innovation Award at the National Sustainable Business Network Awards. Visit the Te Whangi Trust Website here >>>>

Together with an experiential introduction, Rob will discuss the increasing difficulty in accessing the plants needed for rongoā (medicine), outline some of the reasons for the loss of species, and suggest ways in which the situation can be addressed.
Rob McGowan is particularly known for his work with rongoā Māori (traditional Maori medicine). Rob was also one of the founders of Tane’s Tree Trust, and is the Amo Aratu for Nga Whenua Rahui (NWR), a contestable Ministerial fund established in 1991 to provide funding for the protection of indigenous ecosystems on Maori land. His role primarily involves providing support to Maori land owners in restoration projects. Rob is also involved in other aspects of the NWR’s work such as the establishment and management of kawenata (covenants). Robert’s online profile >>>>

Rob Hill will use the research underway at Te Whangi to demonstrate the practicalities and outline the potential of selected beneficial symbiotic root fungi to improve plant growth and health.
Dr Hill is the Principal Research Officer at the Bioprotection Research Centre at Lincoln University, and leader of the Trichoderma Research Team. He has worked in New Zealand and overseas for on how interactions of plants with endophytic root fungi can improve plant health, and is currently involved in the research effort on Psa-V in kiwifruit. Rob’s success in using simple microbial formulations to improve plant growth and health in forest nurseries and plantations was recently rewarded with the prestigious Bayer Award >>>>

Barry Batchelor will demonstrate the construction and operation of a simple biochar reactor and discuss the role of biocarbon in sequestering carbon pumped out of the atmosphere by trees, and its value in improving tree growth, and reducing fertiliser use.

Barry Batchelor is an award winning organic gardener, a managing director of Black is Green Pty Ltd and founder of Black Earth Products . He has presented and run biochar workshops with agricultural, horticultural, garden and permaculture groups around Australia. Barry is at the forefront of grass roots biochar, and developed an open source, small scale, low emission batch gasification system which he refers to as a Fatboy Gasifier.

COST: $75.00 (exclusive of accommodation and food)
ACCOMODATION: A range of accommodation is available at the Miranda Shorebird Centre >>>>

All workshop enquires:
phone 0276828235

Biochar under the Australian Carbon Farming Initiative

Barry and James in Canberra

Dr James Joyce and myself travelled to Canberra last week to help represent the biochar production industry in Australia for the Department of Climate Change, workshop to discuss the development of methodologies for biochar under the Carbon Farming Initiative.

I feel the department has a long way to go to develop a usable framework, support of the Australian biochar production industry might be better placed as this type of program is very much a chicken before the egg.

The below text was taken from the pre notes before the workshop.

Biochar Sequestration – An Initial Biochar Methodology?

The Department considers that a methodology for sequestering carbon in biochar applied to soil may be an appropriate first step towards developing a suite of biochar methodologies covering abatement activities..

A key issue for biochar sequestration however, is establishing the stability of a given biochar in the environment in which it is being applied. If a biochar was added to soil and it was found to degrade overtime more quickly than anticipated, it would not achieve permanent abatement.

An approach which could reduce the risk for sequestration proponents of decreasing carbon stocks would be to calculate the concentration of carbon in the biochar which is highly stable and the concentration which is labile. ACCUs could then be assigned for the proportion of biochar which is stable.

If it is not possible to quantify the amount of stable carbon stored in a biochar with sufficient reliability through testing techniques, it may be possible to relate stability to manufacturing conditions. In this case the methodology would specify certain aspects such as feedstock, temperature and residence time and relate them to biochar stability and the calculation of ACCUs.

Ideally, the initial biochar sequestration methodology should relate to burial of a biochar in soil that is relatively inert with respect to degradation of that biochar. However, a measurement protocol which can reliably calculate the amount of stable carbon in biochar, may make it possible to develop a broader initial biochar methodology which could allow for a variety of feedstock and soils.

The CFI Handbook contains further information about the scheme >>>>

Considerations relevant to the storage and shipping of Biochar

Some confusion has arisen with regards to classing biochar as an active carbon or charcoal with regards to shipping and hazardous goods regulations.

Black Earth Products has sold and shipped biochar all over Australia and internationally since 2010 without a single product issue. All of our packaged product is shipped with a minimum 25% moisture content. All our biochar is exposed to oxygen and stored for a minimum of two weeks before sale. We class our product as a packaged soil improver with regards to all transportation regulations.

Black Earth Products Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) was prepared by process engineers James Joyce & Associates Pty Ltd and is available here >>>>

Black Earth Products approached Hugh McLaughlin Ph.D., P.E. as an independent expert with regards to the production, handling and transportation of biochar.

Hugh McLaughlin is an expert in the area of biochar properties, biocarbon processing, chemical manufacturing processes and chemical process safety.  He has many years of experience developing new processing technologies and implementing those technologies on a commercial scale. Since 2009, he has served as Director of Biocarbon Research for Alterna Biocarbon, Inc., while maintaining his consulting practice at a reduced scope due to corporate obligations.

Considerations relevant to the storage and shipping of Biochar

Hugh McLaughlin, PhD, PE, Director of Biocarbon Research
Alterna Biocarbon website >>>>
December 3, 2012

Every so often, someone manages to get a bag of biochar to start smouldering or build up an elevated temperature during storage, and suddenly the world thinks every bag of biochar needs to be feared like a bomb itching to explode. While it is possible to get biochar to burn, its behaviour during storage and shipping are quite well understood and entirely safe, assuming certain steps are taken to eliminate the potential scenarios that lead to the elusive but undesirable misbehaviour.

As a starting point, biochar is basically a “charcoal-like material” that is intended for use as a soil amendment. Having made that connection, biochar is neither “charcoal” nor is it “activated carbon”. Both charcoal and activated carbon have circumstances that require precautions during storage and shipment, and since biochar shares many properties with charcoal and activated carbon, it is appropriate to apply such precautions to biochar. Once the precautions are addressed, and they will be delineated in the discussion that follows, biochar is no more unstable or dangerous than the compost it is often mixed with.

The one property biochar, charcoal and activated carbon all share is their manufacture under conditions of elevated heat and reduced oxygen – in order to create the “char” backbone of graphitic structures that results in all three materials being black. This conversion process, called “pyrolysis”, removes many non-carbon atoms and yields a more carbon-rich material through a process correctly called “carbonisation”. Any char, no matter if it is intended as a fuel (charcoal), an adsorbent (activated carbon) or a soil amendment (biochar) will react with oxygen the first time it is exposed to it. This initial exposure results in oxygen molecules adsorbing on the internal surfaces of the char and forming surface oxides. The formation of these surface oxides is accompanied by the generation of a small but significant amount of heat. Depending on how large the pile of char is, the heat has to be accounted for, since chars can also be excellent insulators and keep the heat in the pile, resulting in it increasing in temperature.

Notable, it is only the first time a char is exposes to oxygen, typically the first time it is intimately contacted with air. After that initial contact and the uptake of oxygen on those sites inside the char that “adsorb” molecular oxygen from the air, the char does not repeat the process. The sites are full, the appropriate sites within the char are “oxidised”, and the oxygen uptake and heat generation do not occur again.

Biochars that have significant adsorption capacity and activated carbons also exhibit the ability to adsorb water vapour, but the heat generation of this hydration is far less than the heat developed during the initial exposure of fresh char to air. In the manufacture of many biochars, water is used to cool the hot char after it is produced at elevated temperatures. Such a step, especially if it is done at the same time that the char is exposed to air, results in the excess heat of the hot char, the heat generated by oxidation, and the heat of hydration all being removed by the vaporisation of excess water into steam. Once the wetted aerated char is cooled down, it is completely passivated to any potential self-heating scenarios.

So when do chars represent a self-heating risk – essentially only if they are made, isolated, and cooled down without significant exposure to either air or water. This can occur when char are made in retorts that are sealed as they are cooled down, or the char is cooled without contacting it with water and packaged as it exits the carbonisation reactor. For large industrial processes, if the biochar is packaged in sealed 200-l drums or one cubic meter sacks, the char may develop heat when it is finally exposed to air. The classic example of this is the fast-pyrolysis chars produced by processes such as Dynamotive and others. These chars are made under conditions of no oxygen and remain reactive until they are passivated by exposure to air and cooled to remove the heat of adsorption associated with the oxygen uptake.

There are additional circumstances that allow activated carbon to be more reactive than chars, but this results from properties that activated carbons possess and biochars do not. “Activation” is a separate processing step where a char is “activated” using either steam or carbon dioxide at very high temperatures or the addition of chemicals. In addition, some activated carbons have additional chemicals added to increase the treatment capacity, a process called impregnation. Depending on the specific activated carbon and the material that is being adsorbed, it is possible for vapour-phase activated carbon to generate heat during adsorption service. Notably, this is not in storage or during shipment, it is when the activated carbon being used as the industrial adsorbent it was designed to function as.

Similarly, charcoal and some coals, especially if they have excessive volatiles, may have concerns when they are shipped in large quantities. In virtually all cases, bone-dry materials are exposed to a source of moist air and some of the moisture condenses in the fuel, liberating the heat of condensation. If there are volatiles present that vaporise under the mild temperature increase, then the volatiles may initiate a combustion event and everything escalates from there. Please note that several things are necessary: bone-dry fuel containing easily vaporised volatiles, a source of moisture and large volumes to retain the heat of condensation. That is why ships monitor the temperature of fuel piles and wet them down if they start developing heat.

In summary, if a biochar has been exposed to air and contains any significant amount of water vapour (above 10 weight percent is plenty), then the material does not have any self-heating reactions possible under conditions of storage and shipment. Furthermore, if the biochar is sitting in a container and not sealed in a manner that implies that it have never seen any air, then the biochar will not suddenly change its mind and start reacting with either air or moisture – it has been rendered stable and will remain so. By comparison, the plastic bag or cardboard box may represent a risk of fire, if the biochar doesn’t extinguish any such blaze first.

The new era of carbon negative soil improvement