New England Biochar

MISSION:  Empower people to sustainably produce and use biochar as a healing medium for our soils.

HISTORY: New England Biochar LLC is dedicated to the pursuit of a simple, safe, and reliable way of turning local biomass into charcoal. Originally Bob, a farmer in Massachusetts, was motivated to make as much biochar as he could in order to supercharge the weak and sandy soil of his little organic farm on Cape Cod.  

Potential pitfalls of making biochar include air pollution, energy waste, temperature control, feedstock variability, and technology costs–just to name a few. Says Bob, “Who knew that such a seemingly simple process could become so problematic in its details? I would have been very glad to buy a ready made machine that provided an answer to all these challenges but I just couldn’t seem to find one. The mission in my mind became fourfold:

  1. To make the best possible biochar.
  2. To harvest all the available energy from the process to offset fossil fuels.
  3. To make the process safe and smoke free.
  4. To make the process profitable on a farm or community scale.”

We looked into the Adam retort—a retort designed by Chris Adam in order to enable charcoal makers in undeveloped countries to efficiently make fuel charcoal out of local biomass while eliminating 75% of the smoke that commonly caused serious health problems—not just for the colliers themselves but also for the surrounding communities. We ordered the plans from Chris who was living in Ethiopia at the time. The design was for a masonry retort that seemed very elegant in its simplicity. However, we sought a mobile design that we could bring to the feedstock source or potentially bring elsewhere to do onsite contract pyrolyzing for other people. We decided to convert the plans from its original stonework structure into one of steel.

Burner This first steel prototype followed the original plan very closely. Once built, it made bigger batches of char than ever before. However, Bob felt the design could be improved to bring them closer to their four goals. For instance, there was no provision for harvesting energy in the original format. He also was determined to make the final 25% of that smoke pollution disappear. And of course every percentage point of efficiency that they could squeeze out of the yield meant better economic benefits as well.

As we progressed step by step in development of the retort, we also started conducting classes and workshops on biochar for organizations all around the northeast United States. We have done demonstrations, classes, and workshops for universities, garden clubs, organic farmers, farm bureaus, high schools, and a number of other educational organizations and found that people are hungry to know more about biochar wherever they go. We were also had the privilege to give poster presentations at the US Biochar Conference in Ames Iowa as well as the 2010 International Biochar Initiative conference in Rio de Janeiro in 2010.

New England Biochar has developed into three different but interconnected centers. One is education and consulting. The second is the making and selling of biochar and biochar mixes. The third is providing retorts and the associated equipment and systems to other businesses so that they can produce and market their own biochar. 

We have now progressed to where we can roll in with their mobile modified Adam retort and provide the service of turning biomass into biochar, while simultaneously teaching organizations about the many benefits of biochar.

Turnip When not teaching or demonstrating, we keep our equipment running hard and fast at home in order to make as much biochar as possible for the local market. We sell a biochar/compost blend to gardeners and farmers at the local farmers’ market and through ecologically minded landscapers.

New England Biochar LLC has now provided equipment for a number of other businesses as well. The modified Adam retort works with compost producers, saw mills, small farms, or community size waste wood processors. We are always on the lookout for businesses that can make use of both the biochar and the energy. Says Bob, “We don’t claim to have the answer to everyone’s biochar needs but we are doing our best to fill the niche that we found empty when we began.”

For more information on New England Biochar, please contact: bob@newenglandbiochar.com.

Eastham company creates Biomass pyrolysis machine to ship to China

Cape Cod Times By Lorelei Stevens lstevens@capecodonline.com EASTHAM - Down a rutted road in a tidy industrial park bay, Bob Wells and his crew are building behemoth machines with the idea of saving the planet.... Read More

Eastham company creates Biomass pyrolysis machine to ship to China