A new sign marks the gateway to Haliburton Forest Biochar. Pending approval from the MOECC the facility will create biochar made from hardwood trees./Photo submitted

Biochar facility aims to reduce dependency on petrochemicals

By Nate Smelle

March 2018

With all but one approval from Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change remaining for the new Haliburton Forest Biochar facility on Kennaway Road in Dysart project manager Nina Shock said she expects the plant to be open this spring.

As soon as the MOECC grants permission for production of the versatile biomaterial to begin she said the Haliburton Biochar team plans to get to work on their innovative way of reducing greenhouse gases and fighting climate change.

Biochar is a nutrient- and mineral-rich organic matter that is produced through pyrolysis – burning  plant matter (biomass) under high temperatures and zero-oxygen conditions.

Though biochar has a long history of being used to enhance soil productivity and increase agricultural yields Shock said Haliburton Forest Biochar is planning to use the resource in a new industrial application – as a pound for pound replacement for carbon black.

“We are producing our bio-carbon [biochar] made from 100 per cent hardwood trees in Ontario to make a biomaterial that will take a global company off the use of petrochemicals” she said.

“Carbon black is a derivative of petroleum refinement and there’s tons of it produced and bought at a market price. It’s a commodity for an additive in petrochemicals that are black.”

Shock said the process Haliburton Forest Biochar is going to use to produce this biomaterial will help to mitigate the impacts of climate change in four main ways. For one by using sawdust which is a byproduct of milling operations across Canada they will be using a renewable natural resource more efficiently.

In doing so Shock said Haliburton Forest Biochar will be adding value to sawdust which is considered a low-value commodity. This will make their venture more economically sustainable which in turn increases the ecological effectiveness of their operation by compelling industry to switch from using an unsustainable environmentally destructive petrochemical such as carbon black to an eco-friendly replacement – biochar. Therefore by substituting this biomaterial for a product derived from fossil fuels she said they will substantially lessen the market’s dependency on the petroleum industry.

“The economics are favourable for substitution” Shock said.

“It’s not more expensive to go green. In fact it will actually be less expensive to go green. Basically we’re telling the market they’re going green no matter what because we’re going to engineer this to be economical sustainable and green through and through.”

Adding to the ecological and economic sustainability of the project Shock said are the highly efficient production methods Haliburton Forest Biochar plans to employ. To produce the biomaterial she said they will use propane to bring the heat up the biomass to a steady-state. Once the desired temperature is achieved the system will run on its own biomass gases.

“We reuse biomass gases to run at a steady-state so it’s an environmental process that creates this product” she said.

“It’s a misconception that people think we are a factory that will spit out black smoke. We’re not. We’re actually the opposite.”

Shock pointed out yet another way that the operation will tackle climate change. Recognizing that the other market for sawdust is the manufacturing of particleboard; and that particleboard has a lifecycle of approximately 50 to 100 years before it disintegrates and mineralizes and the carbon is released she said Haliburton Forest Biochar will help to slow the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through carbon sequestration.

“If we buy it [sawdust] and make it into biochar it is going to go into a product replacing carbon black where it’s going to live for a half-life of 1000 years” said Shock.

“The carbon will be locked in the product so the release of greenhouse gases is significantly delayed.”