Biochar is extremely unique in its ability to create a new industry from waste materials. Making biochar from refuse curbs the amount of material we put into landfills and lessens the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere through burning.
As our understanding of biochar grows, scientists, horticulturists, and engineers alike are working to develop new production methods and technologies for the compound. Hemp producers are also looking at biochar as a potential new revenue stream sourced from leftover plant materials.
The primary motivations for the hemp industry’s growing interest in biochar are the compound’s many environmental applications. With concepts like global warming taking center stage in global politics, it seems that newfound fascination with biochar comes at the perfect time. Read on to learn the latest on biochar manufacturing methods and technologies.
What is Biochar Made From?
Biochar can be made from any combustible organic compound — most commonly from woods, grasses, or similar plant-based materials. Recent studies show that “biochar production [now] include[s] crop residues from agriculture, forestry, municipal solid waste, food, and animal manures.”
In western regions of the United States, biochar is being cultivated from dead trees. Over the last two decades, pine bark beetles have killed millions of acres of trees in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. While the scale of this devastation is difficult to accept, it is refreshing to see manufacturers actively finding ways to put some of this “beetle kill” to good use.
While you could grow a crop such as hay strictly for biochar manufacturing purposes, the real selling point of biochar is the fact it can be made from waste materials. Therefore, biochar offers a compelling option to commoditize plant material “leftover” after a harvest. An example of this would be producing biochar from cornstalks after the valuable ear is harvest.
How is Biochar Produced?
As our understanding of biochar develops, so do our methods of biochar production. Biochar is most commonly made through a unique process called “pyrolysis.” When making biochar with pyrolysis, organic materials are heated to temperatures hot enough to burn them. However, the biomass is starved of oxygen so the material never actually combusts and burns. Because the biomass never actually burns, it retains the carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
While pyrolysis is the original method for producing biochar, scientists have invented a few other ways to create the compound. Nonetheless, these alternative biochar manufacturing methods are still largely inspired by the fundamentals of pyrolysis.
Each type of biochar manufacturing includes the constituent elements of feedstock, time, heat, and pressure. However, biochar production methods vary with such things as manufacturing tools and types of feedstock.
Asides from pyrolysis, types of biochar production include:
- Hydrothermal Carbonization
- Torrefaction and Flash Carbonization
Modern Biochar Manufacturing Technologies
Each biochar manufacturing process has its own essential tools and equipment. Whatever the type of production, these technologies are each dedicated to creating the right environmental conditions for creating biochar.
As the name implies, pyrolysis reactors are one of the primary biochar manufacturing technologies used for the process of pyrolysis. There is not a single dedicated “type” of pyrolysis reactor. Rather, the term is used to describe the various containers people use to heat and pressurize feedstock without oxygen. Vessels used as pyrolysis reactors include kilns and bubbling fluidized beds.
Hydrothermal Carbonization Reactor
Hydrothermal carbonization is used to produce biochar from fresh, wet biomass. This product is also referred to as “hydrochar.” Hydrothermal carbonization reactors are used to heat wet biomass to 180-250 deg C. After the biomass is heated, the reactors then allow the evaporating liquids to escape to a separation chamber. From there, the liquid is eventually dried into hydrochar.
Biochar Made From Hemp Waste
As seen with other forms of agriculture, CBD hemp farmers are looking for a way to commoditize their organic waste materials. After CBD-rich flowers are harvested from hemp, a vast majority of the actual plant biomass is leftover. These stem, leaf, and root materials are either tossed into a landfill or burned. Needless to say, both situations present serious environmental hazards for the hemp industry.
While hemp farmers are showing interest in biochar as a potential revenue stream, there is not much data available on the actual properties of biochar made from hemp. Currently, universities are conducting research to better understand factors like nutrient density and porosity characteristics of hemp biochar.
Biochar Made from Flax
As we continue to wait on more information regarding the characteristics of hemp biochar, we can look to similar materials to get a glimpse of what to expect.
Flax and hemp fibers are nearly identical and easily mistaken for one another. With so many structural characteristics in common, it is safe to assume that hemp biochar will resemble flax biochar on a structural level.
Here are some interesting facts surrounding flax biochar:
- Extremely small porosity (excellent water retention capabilities)
- High nitrogen content
- Biochar can be made from flax fibers or seeds
If hemp biochar resembles flax biochar as much as one might expect, it shows serious promise as an organic soil amendment.
As our understanding of biochar grows, so do our methods of production. With a growing interest in biochar as a renewable resource with profoundly beneficial environmental traits, scientists are expanding on new ways to make biochar.
Biochar is one of those amazing compounds that has endless applicability in today’s society. Not only can we produce biochar from waste materials, but biochar itself is a rich soil amendment. This fact makes it a great tool for organic farming, as well as soil regeneration in damaged ecosystems.
As the hemp industry continues to research biochar, it will be fascinating to see how we will learn to utilize the material in the future.
Contact High Grade Hemp Seed
At High Grade Hemp Seed, we are continuously searching for new ways to improve the hemp industry. We are extremely proud and excited to be on the cutting-edge of the new hemp biochar manufacturing space. If you have questions about how to make biochar from hemp, don’t hesitate to contact us!