Amazing machine makes new coal in hours

I have just spent a pleasant weekend of driving to Braidwood, speaking at a biochar workshop and learning a great deal about the importance of fungi and biochar for tree growth.

Not to mention all those extra kilometres for not paying attention to the idiocy of my electronic navigator.

The attraction in this beautiful part of the state near Canberra was to see the launch of an n-made mobile charcoal maker, the Crossfire Retort, a pyrolysis machine that converts wood and bones into biochar and bonechar for use in agriculture.

This technology runs the greenhouse system backwards by mining carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to remake (char) coal and put it in the soil. Instead of millennia, new coal can be made in hours.

The biochar is very good for the soil in two ways.

Its inert porous structure forms a great home for the bacteria and fungi necessary for plant growth.It also contains the minerals and salts that were present in the original plant material and returns these to the soil.

Use of charcoal in agriculture is not new technology, evidence is available around the world including the Inca of the Amazon and the Maori of New Zealand.

At the conference I learnt that a pinch of biochar in the potting mix along with mycorrhizal fungi stimulates markedly the growth of pine seedlings when compared to fungi alone.

Recent research is confirming that biochar can double the water holding capacity of sandy soils and also accelerate the accumulation of Soil Organic Carbon in soil.

I am looking forward to my next trip in late July to attend the Braidwood Truffle Festival. It will offer a double delightof truffle food aplenty and lectures by some of the world’s best truffle scientists.

Professor Tim Roberts is the director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at theUniversity of Newcastle

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