The Hookway Charcoal Retort was designed when I discovered biochar, a soil enhancer. I enjoy gardening and grow a few vegetables at the end of my garden. I did not want to buy charcoal to make into biochar from DIY stores for two reasons, firstly the majority of it comes from thousands of miles away and secondly the wood used is from unsustainable sources, for example mangrove swamps.

A retort is a charcoal kiln, which burns the smoke it produces, to heat the kiln. It is far more environmental because smoke pollution is greatly reduced, which is good for both human health and the planet. As the material to be turned into charcoal is heated indirectly a wide range of materials can be charred. Therefore it is easy to produce 100% pure high burning charcoal for your BBQ or biochar for the garden.

Starting small I developed a series of charcoal retorts. When designing these I felt it necessary to keep it simple in order for anyone with basic skills to be able to build and it. For this reason the retort was based on a clip topped, 45 gallon (210 ltr) barrel because these are available worldwide. The result is pictured on the front cover. More recently I have produced the plans for building it, which are selling globally. Unlike traditional charcoal making, which requires a high level of training and skill, the Hookway Charcoal Retort is easy to use and only takes a short time to master. The whole process of making charcoal is also quicker.

Along side the original retort I am also designing larger version for professional charcoal producers.

I would like to take the design of the original Hookway Charcoal Retort to developing countries to see if people there could use and benefit from it. Traditionally charcoal is produced using timber but with the Hookway Charcoal Retort it can be made from anything that contains carbon, for example corn husks, agricultural waste or even grass. This can then be dug into the ground as biochar or made into briquets for cooking on.

I have recently taken on the role of Industrial Mentor at The University of Sheffieldʼs Faculty of Engineering. The aim is to look at developing the retort’s efficiency, the possibility of utilising the heat it produces and alternative methods of insulation.