"We want to take the atmosphere back to its pre-industrial chemistry as quickly as possible. For that, we have biocomposites."
Last week I visited a small slice of heaven; The Farm in Summertown, TN. The Farm is the oldest intentional community in the country* and has been home to Albert Bates, author of The Biochar Solution amongst other books, for decades.
Biochar experimentation at The Farm spans the gamut from soil amendment to building material to humanure additive which then moves over to worm bins for some final processing. Just walking around the various natural buildings and permaculture filled ambiance was enough to inspire, but actually getting my hands dirty making biochar plasters, cement mixes, bricks, filtration devices with other like-minded folks was soul boosting.
We visited a nearby farmer that feeds his livestock (pigs, goats, poultry) an earthy blend of biochar mixed with lightly fermented whey and grains which they gobbled up greedily. We used rather grand outhouses that mitigated odors and reduced nutrient leaching with a blend of biochar and sawdust. And we shared stories of our mutual journeys, lessons learned and best practices along the biochar continuum.
What I really enjoyed about this experience, especially compared to attending biochar and other related conferences which tend to pack an enormous amount of information into back-to-back 15–20 minute sessions all day long for 3 days, was the more relaxed pace, the ability to get to know everyone there and hear about their own particular biochar experiences. The other fun part was leveraging everyone’s tools and backgrounds to take certain ideas further — such as the chardboard paper which I wrote about nearly 3 years ago. Albert had a contraption that was able to measure the electromagnetic shielding of the chardboard which was pretty substantial, roughly 90% reduction!
For those of you that have the time and desire to experience truly sustainable living, I highly recommend a visit to The Farm. Staying in the Fairy House, a cozy earthbag building with a living roof provides the quietest sleep you could ever dream of….
|Pantheon Oculus, Rome (126 CE)|
Run the Research
• All biochar admixtures had less weight loss due to moisture evaporation. Mortar mixes with char have better water retention. This may lead to improved strength. “In this way, biochar seems to play a role as a self-curing agent.”
• The workability of mortar decreases as the percentage of biochar increases.
• 5–10% biochar replacement is similar to 20% replacement with fly ash (the toxic residue of cement making and other industries).
• Up to 5% biochar shows an increase in compression strength.
• All char additives outperformed control bending strength, compression & fracture energy.
• Coffee powder did better on compression tests.
• Hazelnut shells did better on flexural (MOR) and fracture energy tests.
• Hazelnut shells’ irregular morphology creates “perfect bond with surrounding matrix.”
• Coffee powder has higher silicates which could work as an accelerator helping to speed up the hydration process. It stabilized at 7 days.
• All char additives outperformed flexural strength of control (2.96 MOR).
• Hazelnut shells optimized at .25% (5.44 MOR).
• Peanut shells optimized at .25% (5.43 MOR).
• Fine aggregates increased fracture toughness.
• All biochar rates increased flexural strength by 20% or more
• Tensile strength was highest with 5% biochar
• Tensile elasticity was highest with 25% and 40% biochar
• Water absorption and swell decreased
• Biochar additions showed improved thermal properties.
Biocomposite “ore” from recycled polystyrene
Polystyrene waste at a Japanese fish market, by beth