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Biochar: 10 Essential Services for People and Planet

Biochar is a type of charcoal, rich in organic matter.

Biochar is a type of charcoal, rich in organic matter.

 

It may come as a surprise that making Biochar is not new. In fact, Amazonian Indians used Biochar to produce agricultural soils that are still incredibly fertile, even now – 1,000 years later.

People from all over the world are coming to realise the amazing properties of Biochar and the myriad of things it can be used for. These ‘things’ are big ticket items too, things that can change our world – for the better.

Sustainable and efficient agriculture, climate change mitigation, clean and diverse fuel supplies and wastewater remediation are all critical to our survival and the health of the planet. And Biochar can help. Read on!

What exactly is Biochar and how is it made?

  • Biochar is different from normal charcoal because it is produced differently and has different properties and uses.
  • Biochar is made when organic matter is heated in the absence of oxygen to produce a type of organic, Carbon-rich charcoal.
  • Normal charcoal is made by burning organic matter in an oxygen rich fire. The charcoal and ash produced is inorganic.
  • Biochar is added to soil to improve soil health, remediate contaminated land and remove contaminants from soil water.
  • Normal charcoal is used as fuel for heating, in the iron making process and as a colouring agent in industry and arts

Biochar

 

 

Home Pyrolysis Kiln for making Biochar

Small Pyrolysis Kiln for making Biochar

Biochar for Sustainable & Efficient Agriculture: Application to the Soil

  1. Sustainably improves soil health – Biochar reduces soil acidity, provides habitat for beneficial soil microbes and enhances the ability of the soil to retain moisture.
  2. Improves soil productivity resulting in enhanced crop yields. Productivity increases are dependent on the in situ soil type, the crop being grown (e.g. wheat, rice, corn) and the type of biomass used to produce the Biochar (e.g. municipal green waste versus paper mill waste).
  3. Increases economic efficiency and food security – rapid return on investment in Biochar and more ‘food per unit of energy input’. Some aspects of the soil application process need to be managed for safe and effective use including potential combustion risk and the dustiness of the substance.
  4. Decreases impact of current agricultural practices (e.g. pesticide and fertiliser runoff) on surrounding ecosystems. Better soil and water management lead to sustainable land use systems.

 Biochar for Climate Change Mitigation

  1. Capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide in the soil and slowing the return of carbon from plants to the atmosphere reduces the impacts of human-induced climate change. Deforestation and burning fossil fuels are in contrast to the Earth’s mechanisms for storing carbon (i.e. storing it in plants and in the soil). Biochar production is one way to reverse human impacts on the climate and increase our ability to remove carbon dioxide from the air and return carbon to where it came from!

 Biochar for Energy Security: Diverse and Clean Fuel Supplies

  1. By-products (like gas) from the Biochar production process can be used to generate electricity – reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Capturing and using energy from Biochar production is more efficient than burning wood or other biomass like dried animal dung. Indoor smoke pollution is also reduced. This has positive implications for people in countries where burning biomass is the primary energy source.

 Biochar for Soil, Water & Waste Remediation

  1. Biochar assists in the remediation of contaminated land and soil by stimulating plant growth and providing surface organic matter (similar to leaf litter) as part of revegetation projects.
  2. Biochar filters nutrients like phosphate and ammonia from wastewater as it moves overland and/or down through the soil profile. This makes Biochar useful in stormwater wetlands and wastewater wetlands that treat sewage effluent. Biochar can also filter pesticides used in agriculture. Nutrient and pesticide removal occur by a process called ‘adsorption’.
  3. Animal and crop wastes can be turned into a resource. Effectively dealing with waste products reduces the potential risk of polluting surface water bodies and groundwater aquifers. At the community scale, gardening waste and food scraps can also be turned into Biochar.
  4. Processing food and animal wastes by converting them to Biochar reduces methane emissions that would be produced by sending them to landfill (methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide).

Biochar under an Electron Microscope has a honeycomb like appearance.

Well, that was all very interesting, don’t you think? I am always amazed when I discover a new technology or process that has many practical applications. To find out it has been around for many, many generations doesn’t necessarily make me smack my forehead in exasperation. It makes me think that humanity is on the right track.

If you have any technical questions, please contact Lise Bolton, Director and Engineer here at Ecoteam. You can contact Lise by email info@ecoteam.com.au or phone (02) 6621 5123. Lise has just completed a 9 month trial using Biochar in wetlands and is writing up the results as I type!

I will be writing more blog posts on this fascinating substance in the coming months (including more info on the production process, characteristics, economics, soil application, commercialisation and policy and planning considerations) so stay tuned.

Our next featured blog post will be about the Jubullum Village Sewage Treatment System, a project we have been working on with the local Aboriginal community.

‘Til next time, all the best.

Stefanie Stanley, Business and Major Projects Manager at Ecoteam

 

Jubullum Village Sewage Management System: Part 2

Ecoteam manages the water resources at Jubullum Village, including the Drinking Water and Sewage Wastewater. This blog explains what happens to the Sewerage Wastewater generated from the village and the Sewage Management processes involved. Part 1 of the blog (published here) explains the primary treatment process for the sewage (from household to removal of solids). Part 2 of the blog (this blog) – explains the secondary treatment process (treatment in constructed wetlands and irrigation onto an orchard).

Sewage water is often referred to as ‘Wastewater’. At Ecoteam we like to refer to it as Resource Water because once it is treated it can then be reused for irrigation. Reusing treated sewage water for irrigation helps to ease pressure on our finite Drinking Water Resources.

Derek Torrens, a well-respected indigenous community member, is part of Ecoteam and manages the operation and maintenance of the water resources for the village.

Jubullum Village consists of approx. 50 homes with a population of about 200 residents and is situated west of the township of Tabulam in Northern NSW at 28°53’38.71’’S 152°31’42.37’’E.

The Treatment Train (continued!)

Constructed Wetlands

The constructed treatment wetlands are comprised of two paired cells in parallel that include an open water component and gravel filled sub-surface horizontal flow component. Effluent is discharged from the manifold via 40mm adjustable inlet risers.

Jubullum Constructed Wetland Cells - Sewage Management system

Constructed Wetland Cells

The wetlands are planted out with four wetland reed species, Frogs Mouth spp. Philidrum lanuginosum, Jointed Twig Rush spp. Baumeaarticulata, River Club Rush spp. Schoenoplectusvalidus, and Sea Rush spp. Juncuskraussi.

In nature, wetlands are the kidneys of the earth removing pollutants from the water cycle and transpiring much of the water back into the atmosphere. The wetland plants help to treat the resource water. Colonies of micro-organisms known as biofilm grow around the roots of the plants and remove pollutant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous as well as pathogen containing bacteria such as E.coli

Chlorine disinfection system

Once the wetland plants have treated the resource water to a secondary level, the water flows through a Chlorine disinfection system. This simple system kills any pathogen containing bacteria that may have made it through the wetlands.   

Jubullum Passive Chlorine Dosing System Sewage Management system

Passive Chlorine Dosing System

 

Distribution Box Jubullum Splitter Four Way Sewage Management system

Four Way Distribution Box

Dosing tanks and siphons

The flow is then split into 4 dosing tanks; within each dosing tank is a dosing siphon.

Four storage tanks for treated effluent, pasively pumped to irrigate Orchard Sewage Management system

Dosing tanks – treated effluent is passively pumped to irrigate the orchard

A dosing siphon is like a pump but it has no moving parts and requires no energy input to operate. This passive device utilises natural hydrostatic air pressure to allow one large burst (dose) of water to leave the tank and distribute itself evenly throughout its effluent reuse area. This promotes the efficiency and longevity of the system.

Sub surface irrigation system

The water from the dosing tanks is irrigated through sub-surface irrigation onto the roots of citrus trees in the fruit orchard. Each dosing tank has its own part of the subsurface irrigation field that it irrigates.

Jubullum Orchard Sewage Management system

Effluent disposal area – to orchard

The fruit from the orchard is harvested when it is ripe and distributed to community members. The Jubullum Sewage Management system is a prime example of how to turn waste into resources.

By treating water using wetland based treatment systems, you provide a low cost, high performance, low maintenance and environmentally sustainable solution to managing waste and creating a resource.

By using gravity you can employ less pumps, and by using non mechanical treatment methods (wetlands) you reduce your power input, which lowers your energy consumption, which saves money, and lowers your carbon footprint – which equals sustainability.

Aaron Taylor, Operations Manager, Ecoteam.

For more information please contact Aaron Taylor our Senior Operations Manager (Water and Sewerage) here at Ecoteam. You can call the office on (02) 6621 5123 or email info@ecoteam.com.au if you have any questions for Aaron.

If you need help or advice on managing your On Site Sewage System, Ecoteam can help. We provide design and construction services, as well as condition assessments, system operation and maintenance for all sewage treatment systems – great and small.

And remember – your sewage is a resource!

Our next blog will is about Biochar and it’s role in Environmental Management.

 

 

 

Jubullum Village Sewage Management System: Part 1

Ecoteam manages the water resources at Jubullum Village, including the Drinking Water and Wastewater. This blog explains how wastewater treatment occurs and the Sewage Management processes involved. Part 1 of the blog (this blog) explains the primary treatment process for the sewage (from household to removal of solids). Part 2 of the blog (published here) – explains the secondary treatment process (treatment in constructed wetlands and irrigation onto an orchard).

Sewage water is often referred to as ‘Wastewater’. At Ecoteam we like to refer to it as Resource Water because once it is treated it can then be reused for irrigation. Reusing treated sewage water for irrigation helps to ease pressure on our finite Drinking Water Resources.

Derek Torrens, a well-respected indigenous community member, is part of Ecoteam and manages the operation and maintenance of the water resources for the village.

Jubullum Village consists of approx. 50 homes with a population of about 200 residents and is situated west of the township of Tabulam in Northern NSW at 28°53’38.71’’S 152°31’42.37’’E.

The Treatment Train

Septic tanks

Each house has a septic tank, the resource water flows from all household drains and toilets into the septic tank. A septic tank is a primary treatment vessel that removes solids (which sink to the bottom) and oils and grease (which float to the top) from the household resource water.

Septic tank - sewage management system

Septic tank

Collection mains and effluent sump

The water then flows in to the collection mains along the piping to an effluent sump that is located at the bottom of the village. The effluent sump is located at the lowest point to allow gravity to move the water to the sump, eliminating the need for pumps.

wastewater collection mains - sewage management system

Wastewater Collection Mains

In the effluent sump there are two submersible pumps (the only 2 pumps in the entire system) that are controlled by floating switches. As the well fills, the floats rise until vertical, once vertical the float switch closes the electrical circuit and switches the pumps on. As the water in the well drops from pumping, the float switch floats down with the water and opens the electrical circuit which turns the pump off.

Effluent sump and float controls in pump well - sewage management system

Float switches in pump well. (Note: Float Switch in blue).

 

Grit channel and sedimentation basin

The resource water is pumped from the effluent sump out to the back (south) of the village where it flows into a grit channel and then into a sedimentation basin.

Grit Channel before sewage goes into Sedimentation Pond - sewage management system

The grit channel and the sedimentation basin help to remove any solids that may be left in the resource water.

Oxidation Pond

The water then flows by gravity into an oxidation pond; the pond is long and skinny to reduce short circuiting of the flow of water. The pond is shaped like a horseshoe and the water must proceed from the entry point up the skinny channels and then flows into an outlet weir and then into a splitter box which splits the flow evenly to 2 manifolds which feed the 2 constructed wetlands.

Jubullum Oxidation pond - sewage management system

It doesn’t stop here – here’s the link to Part 2. Keep reading to find out the final treatment processes for the Jubullum Village Sewage Management System.

By Aaron Taylor, Ecoteam.

For more information please contact Aaron Taylor our Senior Operations Manager (Water and Sewerage) here at Ecoteam. You can call the office on (02) 6621 5123 or email info@ecoteam.com.au if you have any questions for Aaron.

If you need help or advice on managing your On Site Sewage System, Ecoteam can help. We provide design and construction services, as well as condition assessments, system operation and maintenance for all sewage treatment systems – great and small.

And remember – your sewage is a resource!

 

 

 

 

Richmond Dairies Water Park Internship

By Daniela Stott

Richmond Dairies has proposed to develop Richmond Dairies Water Park on a 26 hectare parcel of land abounding its milk processing factory in Casino, NSW. Ecoteam was approached by Richmond Dairies to produce a Feasibility/Concept Report comprising a constructed and rehabilitated wetland system to treat and reuse wastewater from the dairy to create the proposed Water Park. I was involved in the project through my University internship with Ecoteam. My main contribution was to undertake baseline environmental monitoring surveys at the Water Park to produce preliminary information on fauna, flora, soil and water quality.

The existing area already provides valuable habitat for a wide range of fauna and flora, including the threatened magpie goose (Anseranas semipalmata). Reusing treated wastewater on the Water Park will provide a more consistent water supply, which will enhance and support existing natural wetland ecosystems, and maintain constructed mudflat wetlands. The Water Park is expected to produce significant ecological, social and aesthetic benefits to the area, and provide an excellent opportunity for school groups, bird watchers and the local community to gather for educational and recreational activities.

 

Striped rocket frog (Litoria nasuta) at Casino

Striped rocket frog (Litoria nasuta)

Straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)

Straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)

 

Magpie geese

Magpie geese at the proposed Richmond Dairies Water Park site

 

Corindi Stormwater Wetland (Coffs Harbour)

Wetlands attract birds such as Brologas

Wetlands attract birds such as Brologas

 

A private development company needed a stormwater wetland solution for a residential subdivision. The purpose of the stormwater wetland was to treat runoff pollutants and provide protection for a sensitive SEPP 14 natural wetland located immediately downstream from the development.  

The main challenges included:

  • Variable flows and water quality
  • Lots of fine clays in the soils
  • Protection of sensitive ecosystem
  • Community concerns about mosquitoes, safety for children, flora and fauna

 

Keith Bolton and David Pont were engaged to design a stormwater treatment wetland and to manage community consultation. The system was designed with a number of treatment functions to address both particulate and dissolved pollutants, through the use of inlet zones, gravel beds with melaleuca trees, and incorporating open water zones.

 The use of gravel beds and dense plantings in macrophyte zones formed the core of the system, as this combination has provided excellent performance.

**

The wetlands have now been in operation since about 2005 and continue in excellent condition. The constructed wetlands host several attractive plant species mainly in the shallow water (public safety advantage) as well as supporting a prime habitat for birds and frogs. Brolgas have been regular visitors.

The wetland treatment system continues to produce clear water, and has become an integrated part of the local community, being frequently used as a recreational asset by walkers. A key result has been the large numbers of frogs in the wetlands, and the way in which the wetlands have grown as part of the beautiful natural environment of the site.

 

IMG_5128

Byron Bay Effluent Reuse Wetland Project

 

Byron wetland

Byron Bay Effluent Reuse Project

Every time a toilet is flushed now in Byron Bay, the processing of its contents is ecologically sound. This positive result is the outcome of a collaboration between ecoteam ecotechnologist Dr Keith Bolton, NSW DPI Agriculture, Environment Australia, Southern Cross University and Byron Shire Council. Dr Bolton was the Scientific Coordinator and Project Manager of the 24 ha Byron Bay Effluent Reuse Wetland project, in which 750,000 paperbark trees were hand-planted to reuse and ‘polish’ Byron Bay’s sewage effluent through its final or ‘secondary treatment’ stage. As the effluent passes through the wetland, the trees pump water into the atmosphere, reducing the hydraulic load on Byron’s formerly pristine and now heavily-stressed waterways. Effluent that does make its way into the surrounding area is polished and primed, making it much safer for environmental discharge. Dr Bolton and his colleagues also demonstrated that effluent can be used to manage acid sulfate soil and to regenerate a degraded wetland. The Byron Effluent Reuse Wetland has become an important habitat for a diverse range of local wildlife, and is rapidly becoming a major tourist attraction.

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