Green coke

Could this man trans­form the global steel in­dus­try?

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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

Photo: Michael Craig

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