I'm on a quest to find a future for England's 649,000 hectares of unmanaged woodlands. Every year around 4 million tonnes of unharvested English timber is ignored, that equates to 800,000 tonnes of carbon store. To bring these forgotten plots of land back into management we could not only provide British industry with a vital raw material and fuel, but enhance and re-establish our declining wildlife, and ecology, something that can have a positive trickle effect on our agriculture.
My landlady's woodland, "Jan's wood", is my case study. What economical manufacturing process can I create within this 45 acre woodland, neglected but bursting with potential? So far I have been learning the intricate chemistry that lies within trees, and how this chemistry makes wood behave the way it does.
In particular, I have been referring to England's historical woodland based craft to understand how generations benefited from this material long before the Industrial Revolution.
Charcoal is created by heating any organic material (animal or plant) to temperatures up to 300 C in the absense of air. It is essentially carbon, the atomic building block within everything on this planet.
However, it was not charcoal that I was in hoping to collect. The heat creates a chemical decomposition of the wood, releasing a whole pick'n'mix of chemical goodies in the smoke - Pyroligneous Acid. Traditionally the most sought-after ingredient amongst the condensed fumes in acetic acid, used as a fixative in dyeing cloth. Today, wood vinegar is promoted across the Far East as an organic and cheap pesticide and fertiliser.
What a let down, it turned out to be a bit of a fail. My eager need to shut the burner down led to a drum full of chared wood. At least it was dry.