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FOREST INK: Company invests $10M in biochar

The multi-million dollar facility will use a pyrolysis approach in specially constructed retorts
Jim Hilton is the author of Forest Ink.

In the fall of 2014 I wrote an article about a number of products that could be produced from roadside cull piles rather than burning them.

One of the products was biochar which I have researched and written about a number of times in the past eight years. Most of my interest was using biochar as a soil amendment, but some scientists point out a number of other uses that may be more suited to help us meet some of the climate change challenges.

A recent link in Canadian Biomass described an article in ECO by Vivian Collings entitled Haliburton Forest Biochar announces $10 million expansion.

The company, which was formerly Direct Pellet Industries Inc, hopes to be in production by February 2023 and bring 20 new jobs to the area. The company representatives point out that most biochar production facilities at the moment are focused on soil applications like gardening or agriculture while they will focus on products that will replace coal in the production of steel and oil by-products in the production of bioplastics. They also note that biochar stores carbon for a longer time than if the forest product had been left to decay naturally, and the facility aims to produce biochar products from sustainably, locally sourced forest matter.

I have been producing biochar by burning small brush piles or tree branches in half of an oil drum and keeping smoke to a minimum by using a leaf blower. While this has the advantage of producing biochar on site, it wastes the heat of the burn. The multi-million dollar Haliburton facility will use a pyrolysis approach in specially constructed retorts. As described in the article, ”pyrolysis takes place when biomass is heated to about 400 degrees Celsius in a zero-oxygen environment. When that happens, all of the [volatile organic compounds] are drawn out of the biomass and what you’re left with is carbon. So, we end up with a biochar product that is 80 to 90 per cent carbon, and that carbon is stable in that form, so it won’t break down. The gases that it releases are used as a heating source to fuel the process, so it’s a closed loop, so to speak. The facility will have the potential to generate a net reduction of 4,200 tonnes per year of C02 equivalent emissions and offset more than 7,500 tonnes per year of CO2 equivalent emissions.”

While the pyrolysis system is the less polluting and best long-term approach, there are still opportunities with smaller portable systems that can minimize smoke and produce products for a wide variety of uses. For example, we could do a better job of burning the small wood piles produced during the wildfire thinning projects taking place around town.

There are also portable systems that could treat the residual logging cull piles that may not be economical to chip and bring to town for the energy plant and wood pellet manufacturing. As with many new ventures it is a matter of developing markets for a product so investors will be encouraged to support the system.

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