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