Back to black

A kiwi com­pany is at the fore­front of deal­ing with car­bon that would other­wise end up in the at­mos­phere.

Element - - Back to black - By Andy Ken­wor­thy

Turn­ing forests into char­coal with a gi­ant mi­crowave sounds like the machi­na­tions of an evil ge­nius, but Marl­bor­ough-based Car­bon­scape reckon it could ac­tu­ally help save the world.

This is be­cause the com­pany has found a way of us­ing an in­dus­trial-scale mi­crowave to turn forestry waste into var­i­ous valu­able kinds of char­coal.

For Car­bon­scape this means it can tweak its process to pump out su­pe­rior qual­ity ver­sions of an in­cred­i­ble range of char­coal type prod­ucts. This in­cludes re­cy­cled bri­quettes for the bar­be­cue, in­dus­trial strength char­coal for steel­mak­ing, and bio-oil for use in heat­ing sys­tems that can be fur­ther re­fined to make other liq­uid fu­els, high grade phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts and cos­met­ics.

All of these of­fer more cli­mate-friendly al­ter­na­tives to fos­sil fuel use.

The plant can also pro­duce ‘biochar’ soil im­prover. Mix­ing biochar into soil se­questers or ‘locks up’ the or­ganic waste ma­te­rial used to pro­duce it. This means it does not rot down in the nor­mal way that would re­lease its CO2 back into the at­mos­phere. There are hopes that do­ing this on a global scale could sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the emis­sions of cli­mate chang­ing gases.

But per­haps the big­gest break­through is the way in which this has al­lowed the com­pany to im­prove the pro­duc­tion process for an es­pe­cially por­ous form of char­coal known as Ac­ti­vated Car­bon (AC). In pow­der form AC is used for pu­rifi­ca­tion, de-odor­is­ing and de-colour­ing of foods, chem­i­cals and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

AC gran­ules are also em­ployed in waste­water treat­ment and the pu­rifi­ca­tion of water, food, chem­i­cals and drinks. Once formed into cylin­dri­cal blocks it can also be used for air pu­rifi­ca­tion and air-con­di­tion­ing. In ad­di­tion, ac­ti­vated car­bon is ap­plied in the process of gold pu­rifi­ca­tion, metal ex­trac­tion, and for nu­clear de­con­tam­i­na­tion.

And it could meet the in­creas­ing de­mand for re­mov­ing CO2, mer­cury and other con­tam­i­nants from fac­tory and power sta­tion chim­neys.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany this all adds up to a po­ten­tial bil­lion dol­lar clean tech mar­ket that is grow­ing by up to five per cent a year.

Di­rec­tor Nick Ger­rit­sen said: “In terms of the po­ten­tial we feel like we are try­ing to swal­low an ele­phant!”

The com­pany, which be­gan work in 2006, is cur­rently us­ing its pi­lot-plant scale test­ing fa­cil­ity in the South Is­land to test its pro­cesses for its first ma­jor client, the de­tails of which re­main confidential for now.

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