Charcoal

In 2017 655 thousand tonnes of charcoal was imported into the EU from around the world. Large quantities of this come from the forests of tropical countries, such as Indonesia and Nigeria. Between them these two countries export 173 thousand tonnes of charcoal to the EU each year.

Why do you want to produce charcoal?

Managers of nature reserves often burn their plant cuttings onsite, as there is no buyer willing to take it away. This is because it has a low value as firewood, so is not worth transporting away. At the same time a lot of imported charcoal is low quality. In some cases producers have to add petrochemicals to make it burn. Therefore there is a gap many local markets for high quality sustainable charcoal. 

What are you doing with CANAPE?

CANAPE will test the use of mobile charcoal burners (known as retorts) in wetlands. The aim is to produce high value charcoal from low value wood and biomass that is produced from conservation. The product will be tested with consumers discover if charcoal can be profitably made and sold from wetland conservation waste. 

These tests will be led by the Broads Authority, in partnership with local landowners. The aim is to show that the market is sufficient for individual land owners or local businesses to invest in their own mobile kilns and begin producing biochar. This would be a new rural enterprise for the Norfolk area and would provide inspiration for other wetland and woodland sites in the UK and abroad. 

The first charcoal will be on sale in June 2019. 

How does the production process work?

The charcoal is produced in a device called a retort. The retort is a large barrel shaped burner, which converts wood and plant material to charcoal using a processed called pyrolysis. In this process the wood is heated in a low oxygen atmosphere. This causes its structure to breakdown, whilst the lack of oxygen prevents it burning. As the material breaks down it releases hydrogen, which can then be burned to provide an ongoing source of heat for the process.

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Exeter Retort in use in the CANAPE project. The steam is produced as the water in the feedstock evaporates. Once the wood has completed dried, pyrolysis can begin. 

What products are you making?

Using this process charcoal can be produced from wood in 8 hours. This is in comparison to the 8 days required for production in a traditional earth charcoal mound.  

Two biochar products will be produced from conservation waste. Firstly ordinary charcoal for cooking that could be used as a high quality, local and sustainable substitute for BBQ charcoal.

Secondly a material known as biochar is produced. Biochar is a fine carbon powder that can be used for soil improvement. The addition of fine char to the soil provides a number of benefits to plant growth. It improves water retention, aeration and nutrient availability of the soil. The incorporation of biochar also stores carbon in the soil for long periods. Within the CANAPE project we will trial the production of biochar from reed. 

How can I get involved?

If you would like more information on how to get involved in the trial, or on its outcomes, please contact Andrea Kelly at Andrea.Kelly@Broads-authority.gov.uk 

 

 

 Notes

1. Import figures sourced from Eurostat