There are some amazing people in NZ. Just when I’m tearing (what’s left of) my hair out at the idiocy of some politicians, along comes a news story to gladden the heart of anyone living in the real world. Yesterday, Blenheim-based start-up Carbonscape reported that it has just begun batch production of charcoal in a microwave oven the size of a double garage. Wood waste goes in at one end, the oven heats it up and it turns into charcoal – giving off syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The charcoal can be added to soil (as biochar, aka terra preta), fixing the carbon away from the atmosphere and improving soil fertility, while the syngas can be burned to create energy to drive the process – known as pyrolysis.
Carbonscape call their oven the Black Phantom, Stuff reports:
The idea for Black Phantom came to Carbonscape geologist Chris Turney after he accidentally blackened a late-night potato dinner. He blew up his home microwave in Sidmouth, England, but produced perfect carbon specimens. The experience triggered the establishment of Carbonscape.
It’s a good story, but there’s better coverage at the Herald and TV3. Using pyrolysis to process biomass into charcoal is not new, but Carbonscape believes its patented process is a world-beater. Director Nick Gerritson told the Herald:
“The potential for carbon credits from forestry and agriculture worldwide is huge,” he said. In New Zealand, biochar could help solve the problem of the 13 million tonnes of radiata pine waste dumped every year, and in the USA, it could help the State of Iowa make use of 22 million tonnes of corn husk waste each year.
Gerritson and some of the other Carbonscape directors are also involved in the Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation, a Marlborough company making great strides in producing biodiesel from wild algae growing on sewage.
Meanwhile, a team at the University of Calgary led by David Keith are claiming significant progress in capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air. From the Science Daily release:
Keith and his team showed they could capture CO2 directly from the air with less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per tonne of carbon dioxide. Their custom-built tower was able to capture the equivalent of about 20 tonnes per year of CO2 on a single square metre of scrubbing material â€“ the average amount of emissions that one person produces each year in the North American-wide economy.
“This means that if you used electricity from a coal-fired power plant, for every unit of electricity you used to operate the capture machine, you’d be capturing 10 times as much CO2 as the power plant emitted making that much electricity,” Keith says.
The U of C team has devised a new way to apply a chemical process derived from the pulp and paper industry cut the energy cost of air capture in half, and has filed two provisional patents on their end-to-end air capture system.
Very interesting. The tools for dealing with atmospheric carbon seem to be coming along nicely. All we need now is the political will. And I want some biochar for my veggie bed.