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Waste Biomass Beneficiation & Job Creation Solution ~ Vuthisa Biochar Retort

Biomass beneficiation solution: Vuthisa Biochar Retort

The basic Vuthisa Biochar Retort (Kiln Kit) consists of:

  • 4 Main kiln side sections bolted together with 64 x bolt/nut/spring washer assemblies and 128 washers.
  • 4 x Channel Iron air inlets
  • 2 x Collars
  • 1 x Heavy Duty Rounded Flat Lid with Chimney Flange
  • 3 x Open top reconditioned Heavy Duty 55 Gal Barrels and Lids
  • 1 x Clamp & choker chain set
  • 1 x Top Cap
  • 1 x Chimney
  • 1 x 5L Etching High Temp Paint/Primer.
  • 3 x Timber Spars – 4.8 m x 10 cm (last 0.5 m tapered)
  • 1 x Block and Tackle Hoist – Double Purchase
  • 1 x Loose Rope – 3 m
  • 1 x Snatch Block with Rope Grommet
  • 1 x Hoist Rope – 6 m
  • 1 x Rope Grommet for attachment to Block and Tackle
  • 1 x Snatch Hook for hooking drum/barrel handle

Vuthisa Technologies developed Energy Efficient (EE) Emission Reducing (ER) kilns. This innovation is significant in two ways. Firstly, biomass left in-field following harvesting operations emits large quantities of methane and other non-CO2 gases that contribute to global warming due to aerobic digestion. Secondly, the kilns have an after burning technique that reduces the emission of greenhouse gasses by about 80% when compared to open fire or kilns without an after burning system. This was researched by an independent party, Airshed.

What is Biochar? Biochar can be distinguished from charcoal—used mainly as a fuel—in that a primary application is used as a soil amendment (organic fertiliser) with the intention to improve soil functions and to reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gases. The Vuthisa retort can also produce charcoal and charcoal fines, but made in a more environmentally friendly manner. The use of the word Biochar in this write-up also refers to charcoal produced in the Vuthisa kiln.

The resultant biochar from renewable biomass is not only a carbon sink but offers benefits in terms of retaining moisture & nutrients and providing habitat for good microorganisms, especially mycorrhizae. There is a great need to move away from fossil energy dependent processes for manufacturing fertilisers. It takes about as much energy to make the nitrogen fertilizer for an acre of corn (150 lbs) as it takes to drive a car 600 miles, because it is made using natural gas and other chemical processes that require energy. Our biochar production process only requires fossil fuel to execute short-hauling and transportation activities of the end product, which will not contain any chemical constituents.

Alternative types of kilns like the “earth kiln” and the “brick and/or cement kilns“ have prohibitive disadvantages for making charcoal and therefore biochar. The earth kiln is very labour intensive and besides that, it pollutes much more as there is no after-burning mechanism or the capability to produce biochar in a bonafide retort system. The brick or cement kilns are relatively expensive, take significant time to construct and are also permanent structures.  The Vuthisa kilns are portable. They can be flat-packed and exported and assembled on site and due to their circular design can be repositioned by rolling it.

Greenhouse gasses are only reduced if the correct kiln is used. In 2001, Pennise et al. conducted research on the emissions from traditional kilns, measuring CH4, CO2, N2O, CO, NO, NOx, PM, PAH and VOC emissions. The global warming potential (GWP) is measured in CO2-equivaltents and various pollutants have a much higher GWP than CO2 itself. Pennise et al. states that products of incomplete combustion (PIC) are most harmful in terms of GWP. Depending on the kiln, the emissions can contain up to 13% of PICs. In the EEP funded pilot project “Vuthisa Biochar Initiative”, emission research was done by the independent South African company “Airshed”. It measured the emissions from the kiln produced by Vuthisa, comparing it to the findings presented by Pennise et al., 2001. The following conclusion was drawn:

“Vuthisa Technologies uses after-burning to reduce emissions. The US EPA states that afterburning is estimated to reduce PM, CO and VOC emissions by at least 80%. PM, CO, CH4, VO and PAH emissions reported include an 80% reduction. The CO2 emission rate includes additional CO2 as a result of the conversion of CO and CH4 (23xGWP). The additional CO2 as a result of the conversion of other organic compounds are assumed to be immaterial.”

Organic waste ferments and primarily emits methane into the open atmosphere. Processing it into charcoal prevents this. Emission composition strongly depends on the material as well as the circumstances like temperature, humidity and availability of oxygen. Vuthisa was assisted by world renowned biochar expert Dr Hugh McLaughlin in determining the kiln size, number of internal retorts to be used, length of flue stack and general operating procedures to achieve good quality biochar. Further to his input John Hofmeyr introduced the trilobe concept (pictured above) to pyrolise small diameter feedstock such as sawdust.

Ultimately the South African Government wants to alleviate poverty by assisting entrepreneurs to employ and train a skilled workforce that can eventually branch out to produce the biochar/charcoal as part of Community Based Organisations and Vuthisa would secure the market. Vuthisa Technologies was registered with the Fibre Processing & Manufacturing SETA and Ngaphakathi Professionals have so far trained 40 course attendees in the art of manufacturing charcoal and Biochar using Vuthisa kilns and received certificates. The kiln has much potential as a potential learning tool.

The market potential for waste management solutions is large. Besides straightforward timber logging and saw mill companies, also agro-residues like cotton stalks, rice husks, peanut shells, sawdust, coffee, tea and floriculture residues as well as invasive aquatic weeds are suitable to turn into charcoal or charcoal dust that can be pressed into charcoal briquettes. In South Africa reside 9,000 maize farmers, 4,000 wine estates and 1,500 sugarcane producers which are only the large scale farms. Further to that there are thousands of tea estates, saw mills, timber companies and various grain and oilseed farms in South Africa. The disposal of this agricultural waste goes at a cost because it has to be transported and also a disposal fee has to be paid. Converting the biomass into charcoal or biochar on the spot is a very attractive option. Due to shortened cycle times (4 to 12 hours) small diameter feedstock (commonly found in landfills) that typically turns to ash in larger kilns and prolonged burns can now successfully be carbonised.

This project has very good replication possibilities. Despite much progress, many Southern African countries, including South Africa, experienced the global economic crisis with a recession looming (Statistics SA, 2014). It has affected economic growth over the last four years, prompting a deceleration in rate of economic growth in South Africa. In our view value adding or processing waste streams into products of high value can lessen that impact. The demand for Biochar and charcoal produced efficiently is certainly growing. We envisage that the following industries (around the world) could benefit from having a simple biochar kiln on site to either utilise the biochar or to sell it: Small subsistence farmers, Commercial farmers, Poultry farmers, Working for Water Implementing Agents, Landfill sites, Sawmills, Tobacco companies and Water Treatment plants to name a few. The latter has special significance. The South African government also has a favourable tax arrangement in place for companies that hire workers to process methane emitting waste.

Additional resources:

  1. The biochar produced in the Vuthisa Biochar Retort have also been tested by Protechnik in South Africa in 2016.The report: (https://vuthisa.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/lwp280_390protechniktestresultsf4662-issue-5.pdf) includes two examples of biochar made inside the Vuthisa kiln namely VTK1 and VTP1. Sample CCC1 is Calgon Carbsorb 40 from Messrs Chemviron Carbon and is a coal-based activated carbon which is used as a standard for comparison of the surface areas. The comparative surface areas are as follows: VTK1 – 71% and VTP1 – 63%, derived from the BET/CO2 values. Active surface area measured by the BET/CO2 procedure is an indicator of biochar’s adsorption capacity. This demonstrates that the adsorption capacity of biochar is not that far off from activated carbon and can come in at a fraction of the cost.
  2. A pilot project was performed by John Todd Ecological Design in April 2015 whereby grey water filtering tree pits were constructed in Langrug, an informal settlement located in South Africa’s Western Cape region to receive water from two of the more successful ad-hoc sewers constructed and maintained by the community. Vuthisa Technologies supplied the Biochar, which is used as a filtration agent. This informal sewer system can in future be improved upon by creating a disposal point which makes best use of the contaminated and nutrient rich greywater. By using this waste-stream to grow a tree, many problems were solved at once: eliminating danger of contact with greywater, generating soil and shade, ‘greening’ the community, and accomplishing separation of greywater and storm water. Over time, soils generated in these tree pits will help to absorb storm water, mitigate erosion and prevent pollution entering the Berg River. A combination of 20 kg Biochar mixed water and activated with worm tea being poured into the tree pit Greywater is then routed to this tree. Apart from greywater filtration a huge variety of synthetic organic contaminants (SOCs) such as pesticides, pharmaceutical residues, fuel compounds, and industrial wastes heavily impact the safety of surface waters collected for drinking in communities around the globe (Blacksmith Institute Report, 2014). Decentralised water treatment plants using biochar to filter the water is a very viable solution. A PDF version of the outcome of this project can be made available on request.
  3. Vuthisa kilns were shortlisted and used in a baseline research study called “Assessment of the potential to produce biochar and its application to South African soils as a mitigation measure” funded by DFID. It can be accessed here: https://www.environment.gov.za/sites/default/files/reports/biocharreport2015.pdf A financial model created by the authors showed that Vuthisa kilns can operate on an IRR of 15% if a wholesale price of 440 EUR/ton can be achieved. The average global wholesale price achieved for Biochar is 1500 EUR/ton.  Component depreciation and CAPEX is included in the above calculation.
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Hand operated briquette press – utilizing waste paper and sawdust

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Firewood dependence for cooking in the developing world has resulted in forests being depleted at a rate of 2.5 to 3% per year. It is here in the poorest parts of the world that villagers spend a good portion of their time gathering wood to cook, heat and make charcoal. To counter this dependence on wood, efforts were made in the early 80’s to come up with alternatives. One such alternative being explored was making fuel briquettes from non-woody biomass for cooking. Dr.Bryant and students at the University of Washington in the USA developed a novel low-cost briquette making process using non-woody agricultural residues, ordinary water and a hand-operated wood press.

“Anyone can make briquettes from their own leaves, grass, straw and paper”

The briquette process was simple and could be established in poor rural communities, requiring little technology and very little money. With a small effort villagers could now create their own fuelwood from agricultural residues. To make a briquette, ordinary leaves, grass and straw would be chopped and mashed into a paste. This paste would then be compressed into round cakes and dried. The resulting briquette would be sold as a fuelwood- and charcoal substitute at the local market. In 1994 the Legacy Foundation, USA, picked up on Bryant’s briquette making process and extended the outreach activities. Today, Legacy Foundation’s training and online media services have spread the briquette technology and process into eleven other countries, such as Haiti, Uganda, Mexico, Nepal, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania. The foundation has also released 8 technical/training manuals on all known aspects of briquette making.

Vuthisa acquired the rights to promote and extend this technology into Southern Africa. The Legacy Foundation have now launched their new Ratchet Press to replace the wooden presses and its now manufactured in South Africa.

 

The Ratchet Press is designed to fold away when being transported and once erected in a few simple steps provides the necessary power to compress sawdust and paper mixed in a wet slurry into medium density fuel briquettes. Using common tools and skills, the Ratchet Press can work for an individual or full time commercial briquette production facility. Though it is compact and portable, it can deliver nearly the same force as their larger Mini Bryant compound level wood press. They have launched 3 Ratchet Press manuals namely; Ratchet Press Construction, -User, and -Marketing manual which explains in detail how to construct (unless an actual press ordered from Vuthisa is preferred) the press, arrange and prepare materials and operate the press successfully.

Watch this demonstration video of our latest Ratchet Press:

Vuthisa have also started manufacturing the Test Briquette Maker (TBM) under license so visit our online shop for prices. Quite a large proportion of people that buy the user manuals never commit themselves to building the actual presses, possibly due to time or money constraints or they lack workshop tools and/or technical know-how. Order this “Press Kit” to get familiarized with the concept behind their hand operated wooden and metal, low-pressure briquetting machines.

“Like” our Facebook Fan Page and receive a FREE PDF download link to the “Test Briquette Maker”:

“The Test Briquette Maker can be built for under $125 (USD) and requires almost no maintenance…”

The Test Briquette Maker can be built for under $125 (USD) and requires almost no maintenance, with only basic drilling and welding (10 cm at most) work required. If you’re looking to attract funding to roll out a program using this technology, this press will be most suitable to that end. As mentioned a FREE download link to the “Test Briquette Maker Construction and User Manual” will be supplied with every manual purchased on this site.

Watch this demonstration video of the Test Briquette Maker:

Also visit our Instagram account for more pictures: https://www.instagram.com/vuthisa/

Order the Ratchet press here (minimum order of 2):

For more information on the briquette process and to access their electronic How-To Manuals kindly visit this page:

Biochar production from Vineyard grape waste

We just concluded a successful 3-day Biochar demonstration on two prominent Vineyards in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. See this video of the kiln in action:

Also see our updates on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vuthisa/

Best results were achieved by bottom-lighting the kiln. We have drawn up a discussion document for applying Biochar to the soil in vineyards and orchards. Contact us to receive a copy or to discuss its merits.

I have been impressed with the Biodynamic farming approach of these two wine estates with their organic farming and incorporating various esoteric concepts.

Herewith some pictures!

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Sneak preview of our new IP

by Kobus Venter

Well done to Troy Manufacturing for again being able to translate our drawings into workable solutions. Most components are laser-cut, but many add-ons are hand made. The quality of the welding is also top class. All components are in direct contact with fire so none will be painted. They all come together to form a single Biochar kiln to be used in the Vuthisa Biochar Initiative, sponsored by the Energy and Environment Partnership Southern and East Africa (EEP-S&EA) fund.

Visit https://vuthisa.com/2013/12/23/the-vuthisa-biochar-initiative/ for updates on the project.

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Interesting observation – charcoal pile

By Kobus Venter

The Vuthisa Biochar Initiative is progressing well thanks to the Energy and Environment Partnership Southern and East Africa funding. EEP-S&EA have partnered with us until July 2015 to fund 50% of our project costs.

We were busy setting up a tent for Biochar storage when I noticed a pile of charcoal “fines” of around 3 tons (under 15 mm diameter) was still there 2 years on. The “fines” was dumped there by us continuously between November 2011 to April 2012.

Biochar_observation

This farm is frequented by cattle, with dung piles littered over it, but no fires have been through it. The area circled in red is the same area in the picture above it – just under 20 months later. The charcoal layer somehow compacted down into the soil and the soil is only reached by digging down 0.5 metres or so.

Another interesting development was the appearance of natural vegetation somehow anchored to the charcoal. See below.

Natural_vegetation_biochar

We have adapted our system to produce quality Biochar now as many of you know.

Kindly subscribe and be informed of our progress.

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Employing aliens to capture carbon

By Kobus Venter

(Extracted from a Green Times article published on 20 February, 2014: http://thegreentimes.co.za/employing-aliens-to-fight-carbon/)

Imagine turning thirsty alien invasive trees into biochar.  Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass. This differs from charcoal only in the sense that its primary use is not for fuel, but for biosequestration or atmospheric carbon capture. If created under specific conditions it can also be suitable as a soil amendment.

The beginnings of biochar

The first attempts at making large volumes of charcoal in ancient times had little to do with creating fuel and more with increasing the fertility of the soil. These soils are known as terra-preta soils, which are fertile, black charcoal-rich soil found in scattered tracts throughout the Amazon basin, dating back 450 to 8,000 B.C.

In the humid tropics most of the nutrients remain in the plant growth. The little organic matter that does reach the forest floor decomposes rapidly. Combined with high rainfall means that most nutrients leache away into the soil unutilised. The terra-preta charcoal, called biochar, attracts certain fungi and microorganisms and allow the charcoal to absorb and retain nutrients that keep the soil fertile for hundreds of years.

micropore structure charcoal biochar

The basis of all charcoal and biochar production is pyrolysis: essentially, breaking wood down into its chemical constituents by heat, with little or no oxygen. Today, popular methods of producing biochar include Top-down open burns, so-called TLUD (Top-lit updraft gasifiers) designs and Closed retorts (whereby feedstock is contained and heated within an enclosed chamber).

The quality of biochar can be informally determined by feel: Good biochar is light and rigid but easily crushed, finely grained, not greasy to the touch, washes off with plain water and lastly has a characteristic metallic ring to it when dropped.

Biochar has a high carbon content (typically over 80%) and adsorption capacity which is a function of the internal surface area. The greater the surface area the higher the absorption capacity and the better biochar will retain moisture and soluble organic matter. Activated carbon however does not make good biochar.

3-drum Biochar Retort

Vuthisa Technologies have developed a retort called the ‘3-drum Biochar Retort’ to make large quantities of biochar in batch type burns. The system comprises of an outer drum containing three 210 L oil drums, serving as the retorts, based on their Trans-Portable Kiln technology.

Lower quality feedstock is loaded into the outer drum and lit. This heat is transferred to the contents of the retorts until carbonised.

Carbon capture

In a world dependent on fossil energy, it is easy to see the carbon capture benefits of biochar as offsets against current and future fossil fuel emissions. Many scientists believe there is already an unsafe excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this obligates the nations that caused the excess to abate it.

Charcoal has the potential to sequester gigatonnes of atmospheric carbon per annum, making it the most potent engine of atmospheric cleansing we possess. Approximately 8 percent of all atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by plants each year. If just a small proportion of the carbon captured by plants can be pyrolysed and transformed into charcoal, humanity’s prospects will be much brighter, for this will buy us time as we struggle to make the transition to a low emissions economy.

Anything from 3 to 9 tons per hectare of biochar (crushed into a powder form) can be mixed into the soil. Typically the biochar is first inoculated and conditioned with soil microbes and usually first mixed with compost before being placed into the soil.

Benefits of adding biochar to soil

As a soil additive, biochar ground down into powder form and mixed with compost offers numerous potential benefits:

  • Unlike fertilizers, biochar has an extremely long life in soils and is not susceptible to biological decay.
  • Biochar attracts microbes and beneficial fungi (such as mycorrhizae) and holds on to nutrients that are put into the soil.
  • Biochar helps conserve nutrients by storing them within its matrix, making the nutrients available when the crop needs them.
  • Clayey and poorly aggregated soils become less compacted and provide better aeration.
  • Sandy soils acquire additional bulk moisture storage capacity.

Feedstock

The first step in ensuring the successful implementation of the ‘Vuthisa Biochar Initiative’ was to secure the feedstock for the charcoal kilns. Vuthisa Technologies secured a tender from the Government’s Natural Resource Management Programme (NRM), Land User Incentive (LUI) initiative to eradicate Invasive Alien Plant Species (IAPs) within the Sisonke District Municipality, encompassing some 10,000 km2 from Underberg/Ixopo to Kokstad.

The harvesting contract commenced on 1 December 2013 and expires on 31 March, 2016 and in this time period 580 ha of invasive plant species will be harvested and the stumps treated to prevent re-emergence.

Aiming for 25% conversion efficiency

The first goal of the ‘Vuthisa Biochar Initiative’ is to achieve a minimum of 25% wood to biochar conversion efficiency. Current efficiencies of conventional charcoal producing kilns are less than 15%. Using more efficient methods to produce charcoal has the potential to save approximately 100 MtCO2 per year in Sub-Saharan Africa (see here for more information).

As the plant matter decomposes or ferments, predominantly methane gas is released. Venting un-burnt methane into the atmosphere contributes 26 more times to the Greenhouse effect than CO2 alone.  To avoid this Vuthisa will utilise this gas to provide the heat into the retorts and to maintain the biochar forming process within the retorts. They plan to produce 150 tons of Biochar in the next two years and envisage that 20% of this will be bought by fertiliser companies. This could result in at least 30 tons of carbon being sequestered back into the soil.

It is hoped that this project will show at demonstration level that it is profitable to make biochar from forest waste and that it is a viable product.  Other goals include securing additional funding to start biochar trials and fully investigate the agri-commercial development of biochar products for use by subsistence farmers.

A little help from our friends

Vuthisa Technologies secured funding from the Energy and Environment Partnership, Southern and East Africa (EEP-S&EA), sponsored by the Ministry of Finland to start their demonstration project using their internally developed biochar kilns. The project will be implemented over a 20-month period. Now the dilemma is that they have to raise 50% of the capital for the venture, which up to this point has been self-funded.

If you are keen to support, please go here.

Broadly stated the needs list includes:

  1. Hippo Water Rollers and Portable Toilets
  2. Cooking Stoves
  3. Protective Clothing
  4. Tools & Equipment
  5. Biochar Kilns (pictured below)
  6. Environmental Impact Assessment consultancy cost
  7. For the full list, please click here.IMG_1640

 

Please read more at:

Make contact with them on:

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My website in review (2013)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.