Carbonscape Green Fuel

August 2013

Converting renewable waste biomass into "green" fuel with microwave technology

Carbonscape is a company that has developed a process for converting low cost biomass (like waste saw dust) into renewable “green coke” to replace fossil fuels in the steel industry.

Carbonscape was founded by Nick Gerritsen in 2006. Nick is a business start-up and IP specialist. He’s the owner of Crispstart and has been commercialising New Zealand technology start-ups since 2002. He has also been involved with Aquaflow biofuels, which turns waste water algae into biofuel.

Carbonscape is based on a similar concept – using waste streams and turning them into high value items. In this case it uses patented microwave technology to convert biomass such as forestry waste into carbon products like activated carbon, graphite and charcoal and green coke.

Nick says the vision is “ Rather than exploring for oil, we can grow it. Instead of digging mines, we can make coal above ground.”

Carbonscape uses a microwave, using the same technology as the conventional microwave oven you can find in most kitchens, but on a commercial scale. Microwave technology is said to be very efficient on an industrial scale. The scale of the componentry involved and the automation systems available offer precise control with very limited wastage.

As an example, for the production of charcoal for green steel manufacturing, it is possible to control the carbon content and volatiles to achieve preferred specifications. Nick says they’ve had the electricity consumption of the process analysed and say it is sustainable.

New Zealand Steel signed a future supply agreement with CarbonScape early in 2013. A trial shipment of green coke is planned for 2014, which New Zealand Steel will use as an additive in its steel making operation at Glenbrook to reduce carbon emissions. A scaled up production plant is being built in Marlborough to deliver commission samples.

The collaboration is the result of New Zealand Steel looking at options for the reduction of reduction of CO2 utilising biomass.

New Zealand Steel Limited operates a steel mill at Glenbrook, about 60 kilometres south of Auckland. It uses locally sourced ironsand, lime and coal.

For Nick and co-director Tim Langley the signing of a green coke supply agreement with New Zealand Steel is the validation Carbonscape has been looking for.

Carbonscape employs four people – 2 microwave scientists and the two directors.

The New Zealand Steel deal opens up opportunities for new development.

Last September, the company was runner-up in a global green technology contest in New York. The $150,000 prize money helped get the company into full production on green coke so it could fill its first contract. The company beat more than 500 contestants from around the world to reach the final three and was awarded a runner-up prize. The awards were presented at a Clinton Global Initiative dinner in New York. The initiative was founded in 2005 by former United States president Bill Clinton to “forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges”.