A new biochar friend of mine from Western NY has just started manufacturing a nifty little retort for making biochar called the ‘Biocharlie’. I’ve used it a few times now and I have to say it is the easiest way to make biochar ever! Not only is it easy, but it allows you to char materials that can be difficult to char in other kilns or TLUDs. For my first attempt I tried charring sycamore seed pods that I collected from last fall. I only had about a gallon of them and they are fairly delicate so the Biocharlie was the perfect piece of equipment for this type of biomass.
It’s a little too warm these days for an indoor fire so I tried it out in my new Kon-Tiki kiln (see lower left picture). After creating a decent bed of burning embers, I tossed Biocharlie into the fire. More fuel was added to the fire so that eventually Biocharlie was barely visible. The retort has tiny little holes which allow gases to escape (without these it might explode!). What was interesting is that each hole had tiny little flames jumping out of them. I was pretty convinced my pods were going up in flames inside. Happily I was completely wrong. After quenching the fire and letting the water cool down, I opened up the canister and had perfectly charred seed pods (top right picture). I can’t wait to try out a few more things that aren’t that easy to char in other kilns: turning bones into bone char (good for filtration), turning eggshells into high calcium biochar (animal feed additive), and turning coffee grounds into a nutrient-loaded char for use in soils.
In addition to being able to char delicate feedstock, this could be a great little retort for making ‘designer char’ as well. You can coat your feedstock with various different materials and bake them into the biochar. There is tons of research going on around the world combining biochar with all sorts of different minerals, metals and more.
For those of you that want to dip your toes into the biochar world in the most painless way possible, I highly recommend getting one of these for your fireplace, campfire or Kon-Tiki kiln!