Putting carbon back in the ground

Local business fights climate change

Tom Benton

By Tom Benton

Staff Writer

Just
The Facts

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‘I’m all about putting carbon back in the ground.’

- Tim Camisa, Vermont Organics Reclamation

ST. ALBANS TOWN — Vermont Organics Reclamation (VOR) co-founder Tim Camisa is waging a war against climate change — and utilizing several unusual carbon-reduction techniques along the way.

One of those is the production of biochar, “stable carbon for 500 years,” Camisa said. “When you put biochar in the soil, soil microbes don’t want to eat it. It does not taste good, or they get nothing out of it, apparently.”

Biochar resembles terra preta, a humanmade, pre-Columbian soil from the Amazon Basin. Many European farmers are feeding biochar to their cows. It’s safely edible, and it reduces the amount of methane the cows release.

Camisa produces biochar on-site with a machine that looks like an industrial fuel storage tank. The machine is called a “retort,” a chamber inside a chamber. At the time of the Messenger’s visit, Camisa had stocked the machine with buckthorn and similar invasive plant species.

The retort’s outer chamber burns material with oxygen, creating ashes. The inner chamber burns without oxygen, creating charcoal. “You can do art with this stuff,” Camisa said, picking up a piece of biochar and writing with it on the retort’s chamber seal.

The process starts with fire, raising the retort’s inner chamber temperature to 700 degrees. It starts off-gassing a syngas, which raises the outer chamber’s temperature to 1000 degrees, completing the process in about 12 hours and producing biochar, stable carbon.

Camisa pointed out the retort’s process involves no fossil fuel, which he said is important to him. “Fossil fuels are the carbon coming out of the ground,” he said. “I’m all about putting carbon back in the ground.”

Camisa’s ideas have not been embraced by the mainstream. He attributes that divide to a major national food movement focused on what’s better instead of what’s best. “We haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “They’re doing their sexy thing.”

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