2013 – Biocharger – A Transportable Biochar Kiln

urban ag / biochar / appropriate technology / industrial design

During 2013 I was the supervisor for Myles Day‘s final BTech: Industrial Design mini-dissertation project titled: Biocharger: The Design of a Safe and Efficient Biochar Production Unit for a Small Business Initiative in Johannesburg, Gauteng. The project was a collaboration with the Department of Industrial Design at UJ, Wits Siyakhana Initiative for Ecological Health and Food Security and the Gauteng Department of  Agricultural Research and Development (GDARD).

Abstract: The aim of this research study was to design a safe and efficient biochar production unit to be used by employees of a small business in Johannesburg, South Africa. The study also aimed to design a system of operation for the business which could improve access to biochar for the urban farming community of Johannesburg. The design of the biochar production unit, and the system of operation for the small business, were informed by qualitative data obtained from field research as well as a literature review. The research study adopted a pragmatic approach to the field research which falls under the methodology of participatory technology development (PTD). Field research was conducted with a government initiative called the Working for Water (WfW) programme. The WfW programme is responsible for the management of invasive alien plant species (lAPs) in South Africa, which is considered a potential natural resource input for the manufacture of biochar. The literature review concerns the relevant topics of biochar science and technology, natural resource management in the context of South Africa, and charcoal production and technology. The field research identified that, currently, there is a large amount of waste biomass on clearance sites previously managed by the WfW programme. This biomass is a potential fire hazard, a haven for rodents, and an obstruction to the meaningful use of the land. The designed system of operation for the business establishes that the business will provide a value proposition by removing the biomass from the land by converting it into biochar. The biochar may be sold in bulk to local compost manufacturers and the income of the sale of this biochar may be used to sustain the operation of the small business. The small business will employ members of local, marginalised communities to operate the biochar production units on site where the biomass has accumulated. With the expansion of the business, and the long term goal of financial self-sustainability, there is a higher chance of success that biochar could be made available to urban farmers from a controlled and reliable source. To download Myles’ full mini-dissertation please click here (7Mb).