Macadamia Shell Biochar


Macadamia shells in white bulka bags We were approached to investigate the potential to produce macadamia shell biochar from our process. After discussions we were sent 2 bulka bags (approx. 1000kg) of macadamia shell from Queensland. Production of macadamia shell biochar was conducted on the 27/7/2015.

Macadamia shell has many uses, including:

  • Fuel for bioenergy and cooking
  • Activated Carbon
  • Compost


The objectives of the processing were to assess:

    • Materials handling of macadamia shells
    • Assess EFA’s pyrolysis kiln’s suitability to produce macadamia shell biochar
    • Determine processing parameters including;
      • Temperature
      • Thermal energy
      • Biochar yield
    • Provide a sample of pyrolised macadamia shell biochar for testing.


Macadamia shells being augured into truckWe began the process by feeding the shells into a delivery auger which drops material into a hopper. The pyrolysis auger then moves the material from the hopper along the bottom of the pyrolysis zone where it is heated. The heated material carbonises and gases bound up in the material are released. These gases are mixed with introduced air and combusted, creating heat which is sufficient to maintain the process, with excess heat vented up the flue. The carbonised material (biochar) is removed, quenched and collected.

It did take us some time to “learn” how to char the shells. Initially, we were feeding any unprocessed shells back through the process however, as we were quenching the half charred shells, they were wet and affecting process temperatures.

We achieved process temperature by moving the shells through the machine slowly, using the diesel burner to heat the chamber. Once gasification was established along the length of the kiln and we were confident the temperatures could be maintained, we turned the burner off and the process was self-sustaining. We estimate this start-up process took approximately 1.5 hrs, however we are confident that this could be reduced based on our learning’s.

There are 6 thermocouples which monitor process temperatures at key locations in the kiln. During the process, a record is kept of the temperatures at 5 minute intervals. Process temperature is controlled by using water jets inside the kiln.

Initially, the shells caused a lot of noise in the loading, pyrolysis and biochar augers and seemed to make the machine “work” very hard. However, as the time of processing increased, the noise level dropped. We suspect that the fact the kiln had not been used for a while the insides of the augers were rusty and needed some time to settle in. Once this problem was resolved, there were no significant handing issues.

Macadamia shell biochar discharged from the kiln was immediately quenched using fresh water. This is critical to avoid the hot biochar from igniting when it contacts the air. It also aids with handling of the biochar post discharge.

Measurements and Calculations

Measuring feedstock

Macadamia shells in 60litre container on scaesPrior to processing, unprocessed shells were loaded into 60 litre drums, weighed and an average weight taken. Each drum contained approximately 23 kg of shells. By recording the number of drums of shells loaded into the hopper and the time intervals at which they were loaded, we were able to calculate the feed rate of shells into the kiln.

Measuring Biochar

In order to determine the quantity of macadamia shell biochar produced, we weighed the quenched biochar, took a representative sample and performed a moisture analysis. Moisture analysis is performed by weighing the sample, then heating the sample for short periods of time and weighing each time. When the weight of the sample stops decreasing, it is assumed that all moisture has been driven off, therefore the remaining weight is dry material only. The difference in weight therefore represents the moisture content.

Calculating Energy

Macadamia shell biochar processing temperature displaydispTo calculate the energy produced, we initially calculate the energy contained in the feedstock. This is calculated using the mass of shells fed into the process over the measurement period (in this case, 90 minutes) multiplied by the calorific value of the feedstock, which is approx. 21MJ/kg for macadamia nut shells.

Next we calculate the energy contained in the biochar produced. This is done by multiplying the dry mass of biochar produced over the measurement period by the calorific value of the biochar, which is approximately 25MJ/kg.

The difference between the energy in the feedstock and the energy in the biochar is the total energy available to the process.

Key Findings

The macadamia shells flowed well without bridging in the hopper. They would readily flow through a “day bin” with relatively shallow wall angles, perhaps as low as 45°. The kiln uses augers to move material into, through and out of the process. These augers utilise both solid flighting and ribbon flighting as well as paddles to mix the pyrolysing material in the kiln. We did not experience any significant handling issues with any of the augers or mixers.

Macadamia shell biochar in drumThe macadamia nut shells charred very well. Process temperatures were high, signifying a highly combustible material and ideal process conditions. Maximum temperature achieved in the gasification chamber was 1009°C with the average being 839°C. Flare Temperature averaged at 896°C. Ideally, flare temps should be > 400°C to burn off any volatiles. Temperatures had to be controlled using water sprays to avoid excessively high temperatures.

There was no visible smoke discharged from the flue, and we are confident that any emissions will be well within acceptable emission standards however emissions testing will be required to confirm.

Macadamia shell Biochar yield was calculated at 30.4% which meets the target yield for biochar production through our process. Biochar temperature averaged approx. 297°C . This is a little on the low side, temperatures of 300–450 °C generally produce a good quality biochar. Increasing the pyrolysis temperatures would help with this problem as well as crushing the shells into smaller particles to increase the surface area. It should be noted that the trough temperatures were slowly rising with time. Considering this was our first experience with processing macadamia shells, we would need a larger quantity to enable a longer run time to enable us to achieve a true steady state condition.

Energy produced was approx. 500kW of heat. Any calculations of useful heat would have to account for heat losses through the kiln walls.


The trial demonstrated that:

    • Macadamia nut shells can be transported using augers
    • EFA’s pyrolysis technology can produce biochar from macadamia nut shells.
    • Pyrolysis of macadamia nut shells produces excess heat that may be useful.

Check out a video of the action.




About the Author:

Euan Beamont is Co-Founder/Director of Energy Farmers Australia. From a rural background Euan has always had a strong connection to the land and is very passionate about the sustainability of agriculture. Euan believes that a carbon price is a good thing for agriculture and will enable farmers to change to more sustainable farming practices and move away from their reliance on fossil based energy.
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