What is a Top Lit Burn Pile? It is a technique for clean conversion of waste biomass - like forest thinnings - into small amounts of biochar. It is not the most efficient way to produce biochar. However, there are many situations today where "problem" biomass is thinly distributed on the ground and far away from any facility where it could be used to generate energy or used as feedstock in some efficent carbonization machinery to produce biochar.
The Top Lit method can be used in cases where biomass will be burned anyway just to dispose of it, for instance, fuel-load reduction in forests or killing pests in orchard and vineyard prunings. Top Lit Burning will produce some biochar - perhaps about 10% by volume of the original biomass, depending mostly on feedstock moisture - the drier the better. Perhaps more importantly, the Top Lit method drastically reduces the amount of smoke produced, saving our air and our lungs.
Here is a great time lapse video of the Top Lit method as practiced in northern California by Will Emerson, followed by a "how to" video from Steven Edholm and then by a presentation and article I did on our October 2013 Top Lit Burning demonstration project in southern Oregon:
They did a super nice job of laying out my article at Tree Care Industry Association Magazine. It's in the February 2014 issue which you can read for free here: Learning to Burn and Make Biochar, Not Smoke
TCIA is an organization for professional arborists. It's great to see their interest in biochar. I wrote another piece for them back in 2012 (Biochar for Arborists) that highlighted work being done by Bryant Scharenbroch of the Morton Arboretum and Bartlett Tree Services on renewing the health of urban street trees in Chicago.