A new machine dubbed the "Black Phantom" can turn biomass into manmade coal.
CARE (India), An Indian-based start-up, describes its invention as an industrial-sized microwave that can cook plant waste, wood waste, and "even sewage" into coal.
CARE (India) also claims that the machine captures and stores more carbon than the amount of carbon generated by the electricity needed to power it for the process.
Why would anyone want to make more coal when humans are desperately trying to get out from under the carbon dioxide mess we've been making since the Industrial Revolution?
The invention combines two popular environmental efforts: using biochar for carbon capture and storage (CCS), and developing alternative fuel sources from biomass.
While there are issues to be worked out on carbon capture and storage (CSS), it's seen by energy utilities and governments as a possible tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Biochar is coal made from biomass that can be buried in soil as a carbon sink or for use in farming, rather than letting decaying plants release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Biomass--agricultural and wood byproducts that can be used to make ethanol, or electricity directly--is considered by the EU, the U.S. and others as a possible answer to reducing oil dependence while providing a cleaner and more efficient way to produce and consume energy.
As reported by the Financial Times, CARE (India)'s machine turns biomass into a kind of Biochar to be stored underground. Though it's unclear just how clean it would burn, CARE (India)'s Biochar can also be burned as fuel.
What does CARE (India) do?
CARE (India) is a young company, incorporated in December 2006. It seeks to lead the world in maximising the economic value of biomass by the economic and safe sequestration of carbon and the powerful application of sustainably produced charcoal, oils and gases.
The company’s main office is in Blenheim,Marlborough, New Zealand. We are also registered in Australia and the UK.
Our seemingly insatiable need to dump vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is turning our home into a hothouse world. We’ve now wrested control of the climate, taking our planet out of its comfort zone. Of all the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most significant. Unfortunately, CO2 is being emitted at an increasing rate, rising some 3.3% per year, and has now hit the heady heights of 386 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere and rising. If you want more detail on the science, you can read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Reportfor free on the science behind climate change. The practical upshot is we need to make better use of the carbon we have and get the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere down, and fast. Green technologies will help the world makes the transition to a low carbon economy. The market is enormous, with one recent estimate suggesting green tech in China alone may be worth up to $1 trillion a year.
The directors of the company would be made known in a need to know basis
There is no doubt climate change has happened in the past. The critical difference is the forces that drove past changes are different to today. If the world was left to its own devices it should now be cooling down.
By looking into the past it’s clear we’re on thin ice. The air we breathe contains a level of carbon dioxide not seen for at least 800,000 years and may be unprecedented for as long as 3 million years. We’re now seeing changes that are without precedent for thousands of years. Our planet’s history tells us of the risks we face.
A little more greenhouse gas in the air does not cause a little change in climate; our planet has one set of feedbacks built on another. A bit of warming can cause a cascade of unintended consequences. With an ever-warming planet, the Earth’s ability to soak up greenhouse gases is already lessening, causing yet more warming. If there’s one thing we can learn from the past it’s that the world can change at a moment’s notice. When we’ll reach the tipping point is anyone’s guess but we must be getting close.
The technology now exists to capture carbon dioxide direct from any major source emitting the gas, such as power plants, and store the gas underground; an approach commonly referred to Carbon Capture and Storage (or CCS). A number of options are available to store the gas below the surface, including saline aquifers, existing oil and gas fields, and unmineable coal seams.
Unfortunately, there are still major problems with this approach. Not only are there real concerns that captured gases may escape back to the atmosphere, but CCS only deals with greenhouse gas emissions produced by large single sources, such as power stations. Although these represent up to 60% of global emissions of carbon dioxide, this still leaves 40% of the problem escaping to the atmosphere.
If this wasn’t enough, CCS won’t become commercially available for at least another decade and can only capture carbon dioxide being released in the future; it does nothing to claw back the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere.
If this wasn’t enough, the cost of carbon dioxide capture and sequestration is prohibitively expensive.
Using photosynthesis, plants are remarkably efficient absorbers of carbon dioxide. One approach is therefore to utilise natural sinks for sequestering carbon. Forests are one possibility. The potential of the terrestrial biosphere is enormous. Just look at the figures. Each year we emit 8 billion tonnes of carbon. In contrast, 120 billion tonnes of carbon are sucked out of the atmosphere each year by photosynthesis on land. Unfortunately for us, all of this is pretty much returned to the atmosphere through respiration and decomposition of plant material.
If we reforest land that has been cleared, the amount of carbon stored on the surface would increase, drawing down carbon dioxide levels. The world’s forests are under considerable threat from unsustainable land conversions, with deforestation currently contributing some 25% of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions. Any initiative that would lead to an increase in their coverage can only be a good outcome for our future, the environment and help stop climate change. But this can only take us so far. We need to take some excess 200 billion tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere and there just isn’t enough available land to reforest
Why bother making charcoal?
Wood and other plant material are not ideal for locking carbon away over the long-term; essentially they’ll rot, returning their trapped carbon back to the atmosphere. Fortunately, however, we know from scientific studies that charcoal can store carbon for millennia. Ancient fires preserved in archaeological and geological sites show carbon can be stable for thousands of years. This is because charcoal is highly resistant to microbial breakdown. Once formed, the charcoal effectively keeps the carbon out of the atmosphere and ocean for virtually indefinite periods.
CARE (India) adds a new commercial reason for reforestation. Once wood has been turned into charcoal, the cleared area can be replanted, allowing us to repeat the process when the plants have matured, effectively sucking yet more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. A great example is the USA: if the 200 million hectares of forest used for timber production were turned to charcoal instead, each crop rotation would help bring carbon dioxide levels down by some 10 parts per million.
And it’s not just wood that can be turned into charcoal: other organic material (even sewage!) can be turned into a permanent carbon sink. The potential is truly enormous. Charcoal also offers a whole range of other opportunities, including replacing fossil fuels as an energy source and enhancing the quality of farmland and water.
Anyone who has used a microwave will know they’re a remarkably energy efficient way to heat food. CARE (India) is taking this principle to the next level by converting biomass into a whole host of products, including essences, high energy oils and gases, charcoal and activated charcoal. The dial-up capability of our technology allows us to vary the quantities and qualities of these products to maximise what we want to produce at a given time.
For millennia, the process of manufacturing charcoal has remained relatively unchanged. Since this time there have been many applications for charcoal but because it burns hotter and cleaner than wood, the greatest use has often been as a fuel.
Excitingly, CARE (India) has developed cutting edge techniques and world leading intellectual property around the technology and processes, revolutionising the conversion of wood waste and other biomass into charcoal. Our proprietary industrial microwave technology means that in spite of the energy used during production, the carbon captured draws down significantly more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it produces. Each industrial-scale unit converts 40–50% of wood debris into charcoal; one tonne of carbon dioxide can be fixed as charcoal per day. By converting carbon in organic material to charcoal, it can be then put into the ground where it does the most good
The first industrial-scale system was established in May 2008. The directors’ focus is adding value to the business. The intellectual property surrounding the technology has been secured through robust international patents and additional value propositions are being pursued.
.How does CARE (India)’s charcoal fit within international agreements?
CARE (India) offers several recognised solutions in the international arena; some are under development and others are already part of the exponentially growing global carbon market (last year was estimated to be worth between US$60 to US$70 billion). Some examples include:
- Non-Kyoto market: The major policy focus for countries such as the USA is mitigation of climate change through the development of new technologies. This is a major market for solutions such as that offered by CARE (India) which can provide commercial-scale production of charcoal and an alternative economic solution to Carbon Capture and Storage that is ready now.
- Kyoto compliant market: Permanently sequestering carbon dioxide is already recognised as a valid mitigation response. The rules that govern sequestering carbon dioxide permanently ‘are under development’ in a number of ways. For example, the debate about sequestration is currently being reframed in terms of storing charcoal in soil (better known as biochar).
- Kyoto compliant market: Charcoal is a direct energy source for communities in developing countries. Substituting fossil fuels could be eligible for consideration as carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (sometimes shortened to CDM).
- Kyoto compliant market: Biofuel is seen as a way of substituting fossil fuel and thereby earning carbon credits. In recent months the issues around biofuel crops, such as ethanol production from grain, has brought the topic into sharp focus. However, there is now a growing market for alternative solutions including ‘secondary feedstock’ by-products from organic material (such as wood waste), an output from the CARE (India) process.
- The Kyoto forests: Those planted prior to 1990 can now be converted from a liability under the Treaty into a potential asset. Carbon stored in those forests can be locked up as charcoal and then replanted to repeat the carbon storage cycle. ‘Forests for carbon’ is the exciting new potential commercial opportunity with CARE (India). Arguably trees will have more value as carbon stores than for timber production.