Could this man transform the global steel industry?
Marlborough clean tech organisation CarbonScape is on the hunt for funding to scale its operation to commercial size following a major deal struck with New Zealand Steel to provide ‘green coke’ to the Glenbrook Steel Mill.
The technology to produce high-quality metallurgical coke made from forestry waste is a world first, and has the potential to transform the global steel industry.
Currently the fuel used to turn iron sands to steel is thousands of tonnes of high grade coking coal, with its associated environmental cost in terms of climate-changing CO2 emissions. By contrast the material used to make green coke has a net zero CO2 cost.
Nick Gerritson, managing director of CarbonScape, is excited about the deal, which will see his company start supply to Glenbrook as soon as his operation can be increased to commercial size.
“We bring a product which exceeds their requirements. We can mitigate the risks in terms emissions, but also of volatility of material, making the process much safer.”
The first $2m raised will see the first of an eventual 8-10 modules built, with a further $6m required to construct the rest of the units.
Gerritson estimates that the plant, when completed, will produce in the region of 10,000 tonnes of green coke per annum.
CarbonScape has been working on this technology for six years. “Imagine using a microwave in your kitchen at home. You dial in the recipe. Take that analogy and apply it to biomass, we are doing what nature does in minutes rather than millions of years.”
Heat recovered from the process also produces electricity with the effect that the production process is self-powering.
“Coal extraction is, if you like, an analog approach. This is like switching from analog to digital – we are producing it in real time.”
Gerritson says it has been an unexpected surprise being elevated so quickly to this size of potential commercial operation, but says the model is easily and quickly scalable, with huge potential for the same model overseas. “The system is agnostic in terms of the biomass input, it doesn’t really matter what type of biomass it is, as long as we have the right moisture content. To that extent we can scale globally without any barriers to entry,” says Gerritson.
The same technology also produces other products, such as graphite (an electricity conductor used in solar and electronic applications), and activated carbon (used as the main sieve for water filtration and emission stacks and catalytic converters in cars, a market which is growing at 10% at year).
“In that way the company is hedged in a very exciting way, with high-value niche products and large commercial applications,” says Gerritson.
Gerritson’s research has shown that the biomass needed can all be sourced from the Marlborough region. “We are actually pretty well placed just where we are.” Gerritson has no plans to publicly list his company. “We are looking at all options. Success isn’t defined by how much money you raise, but by getting to market and making a difference.”
"...we are doing what nature does in minutes rather than millions of years." Nick Gerritson