Jul 27, 2013 at 03:07 PM

Terralogix Group Pyrolysis: ‘Nasty to Nice’ Part II

By Terralogix Group

Alec MacLeod is COO of Terralogix Group, LLC.  The Annapolis, MD firm is a manufacturer and facilitator of Waste to Energy technology using a process known as  pyrolysis.  All four partners in the firm are tireless advocates for the technology’s use as a global sanitation solution.  We will share Alec’s recently updated white paper ‘Nasty to Nice’ here on the Terralogix Blog  in three installments.   

In part I of our series on Terralogix Group and pyrolysis we introduced the process and some of its positive affects.  In part II we focus on defining Biochar and its place as a soil amendment.

biochard-fuel-from-bio-waste: ‘Nasty to Nice’ Part II

Biochar is generated through pyrolysis, the anaerobic combustion process. It differs from charcoal produced through aerobic, low-temperature combustion by the complexity of its molecular forms as well as by the incorporation of oxidized forms of nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur, converted to nitrates, phosphates and sulphates and bound within the newly formed carbon matrix. Binding of N, P, and S and carbonates prevents leaching of these nutrients/pollutants into surface and ground waters.

Production of biochar is significant to reducing carbon loading to the Earth’s atmosphere. Production of biochar in closed pyrolysis systems releases little CO2 into the atmosphere, and this fraction is a component of the synthesis gas. Carbon removed from today’s atmosphere through absorption and processing of carbon by living organisms is thereby sequestered within the solid carbon matrix, which is itself extraordinarily valuable as a very long-lived soil amendment, where it acts essentially as a bio-catalyst. This is a long-term sequestering of carbon – biochar is shown to be stable for millennia in even highly active soils.

Effects of Biochar in Soils: Biochar is porous and sterile – it has an extremely large amount of surface area (up to 400 m2 per gram), due to the voids left behind as differentially volatile material is converted to gas.

Biochar under an electron microscope Biochar under an electron microscope

Surface of biochar under electron microscope

These voids and the char itself retain soil moisture and are hospitable to soil organisms, particularly fungi. Soil microbes, including fungi, are instrumental in translating the mineral fraction of the soil into forms that become available to plants, considerably reducing the need for fertilizer inputs. In fact, these microbes, when in the presence of biochar, increase their ability to process and cycle nitrogen, a key component for plant growth. The addition of biochar to soils not only increases access by plants to nutrients, it also increases the ability of plants to withstand drought conditions. And biochar is instrumental in the improvement of soils having difficult textural characteristics – clays due to lightening the soil matrix and providing nutrient pathways, and sands by increasing the ability of the soil to retain moisture as well as providing a more biologically effective growth medium. Two dozen studies commission by the United Nations show that inclusion of biochar into soils improved crop production from 20% to 220%.

From the International Biochar Initiative (IBI): “Biochar enhances soils. By converting agricultural waste into a powerful soil enhancer that holds carbon and makes soils more fertile, we can boost food security, discourage deforestation and preserve cropland diversity.

Research is now confirming benefits that include:

? Reduced leaching of nitrogen into ground water ? Possible reduced emissions of nitrous oxide ? Increased cation-exchange capacity resulting in improved soil fertility ? Moderating of soil acidity ? Increased water retention ? Increased number of beneficial soil microbes

Biochar can improve almost any soil. Areas with low rainfall or nutrient-poor soils will most likely see the largest impact from addition of biochar.”

Biochar can improve almost any soil
Biochar can improve almost any soil

There are literally thousands of peer-reviewed papers available on the effect of biochar in soils, the consensus of which is that biochar improves essentially every function of soils pertaining to plant growth, from moisture retention to nutrient cycling, retention and availability, soil tilth and other beneficial effects. And one of the most important facts about biochar in soils is that it simply remains there! And it does so for millennia, maintaining its soil improvement function into perpetuity.

Read Part I ‘Nasty to Nice’

Read Part III ‘Nasty to Nice’

Listen to No Boundaries Radio Hour featuring Terralogix CEO Kurt Karsten and Alec LacLeod.


Scott Graves
Scott Graves


Posted in Renewable Energy Sources.