Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Biochar activity in Thailand - Warm Heart

Produce a low-cost, low-tech biochar burner and clean burning, biochar producing cook stove for mountain village use, and achieve widespread adoption of biochar and the clean burning stove.

Warm Heart is all about finding complementary solutions to separate problems. Case in point: mountain-soil restoration and respiratory disease reduction. Years of over-use, exposure to sun and erosion have reduced farmers’ fields to hard, lifeless clay. Without the organic matter, microbes and fungi essential to plant growth, their soil is close to infertile. Years of exposure to cook-stove smoke have made respiratory illnesses among the leading causes of death among the elderly. Exposure to cooking smoke annually kills twice as many children as malaria or HIV/AIDS, and is reported by WHO to be the fifth worst risk factor for disease in the developing world. Collecting the wood to keep the fires going day and night also exhausts women.

There is nothing necessary about the condition of villages’ soil, nor is there anything necessary about constant exposure to wood smoke. Both result from the lack of better technological alternatives. Tropical agriculture specialists have long recognized the problems that have destroyed the mountain soils of Phrao, and have ready, inexpensive solutions. There are also ready, inexpensive alternatives to open-hearth fires and pot cook stoves. If only there was a way to disseminate this information and to encourage the adoption of the new technologies…

We knew about shade trees and green mulch cover crops, but they offer only slow improvements in soils as degraded as ours. Then we discovered biochar or “super charcoal” produced at a high temperature in an oxygen-free environment. Alone and mixed with fertilizers or composts, it is an extraordinary soil amendment. Biochar improves soil’s water retention capacity, increases its ability to host beneficial microbes and fungi, improves plants’ nutrient uptake, and increases yields. To our disappointment, the locally available biochar burners were for backyard cowboys. How to produce enough biochar to plant demonstration fields, and how to produce a low-tech but high-volume burner that could be built in the villages?

Our volunteers transformed an old playground merry-go-round into a six-barrel biochar burner capable of producing 1.2 tons of biochar weekly! With our plans, a junk yard and a home welder, anyone can make one for almost nothing. But how to encourage biochar adoption?

Another volunteer suggested biochar producing, clean burning cook stoves. Show people that the stoves do not produce smoke, burn readily available corncobs and rice husks instead of wood, and produce a pound of biochar per meal. Then give them two options: use the biochar yourself or sell it to us."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, BIG-SEA for highlighting our efforts. We apologize for our current lack of published materials about our work. We have a prototyped "TLUD merry-go-round" system for making biochar from biomass such as corn cob and are currently completing testing on an in-field system for biomass such as rice straw. Our work focuses on very poor farmers, designing systems that can be built from scrap and provide immediate returns for the farmer, while also providing social benefits such as smoke and smog reduction.