Christian TURNEY

Microwave BioChar

Carbonscape Ltd

P.O. Box 55
New Zealand

Phone -- +64 3 579-2273
Fax --  +64 3 579-2273

Kiwi Company Claims World First for Charcoal

A world-first invention was unveiled in Blenheim in New Zealand this week with a multi-billion dollar earning potential and the ability to impact on carbon capture on a global scale. Carbonscape has developed and patented a process for manufacturing charcoal using microwave energy - a vastly more energy efficient process than what is currently used.

The company has begun batch-scale production but hopes to raise capital to scale up to a fully-integrated continuous production. Carbonscape says that its technology can address existing biowaste streams and that it has been invited to its their technology on pine waste on site in commercial forests.

The company is also fielding international approaches, including a United States interest looking at using corn waste as a raw material for charcoal production. Carbonscape's unit traps the carbon fixed in waste plant material in the form of charcoal, which can be returned to the soil as biochar.

The invention came about when scientist Professor Chris Turney was attempting to cook dinner in a hurry and accidentally blew up the family microwave. He realised he had created pure carbon, and immediately saw its potential in the marketplace.

Carbonspace's prototype machine, dubbed "the black phantom" was manufactured by a local design and engineering team, and can be fitted into a 40-foot shipping container. This means that it can be taken into remote places.

"It is also possible to use the technology on a large scale either by combining several smaller plants or by scaling up to one big unit," says Carbonscape director Nick Gerritsen. "It could be set up on a forestry skid site with a generator," he says. "This means that wood waste could be processed on-site leaving the forest owner with only the finished charcoal to transport out of the forest." Source: Carbon News 200


Cited documents:  JP2004148176 // JP2004239187 // US4118282

Abstract --  The invention provides a method for sequestering carbon dioxide. The method comprises cutting organic material into chips, carbonising the chips of organic material by applying microwave energy and storing the resulting charcoal in a carbon sink.

Carbonscape: The Potential for Fixing Carbon


Chris Turney

( Author of Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past )

As with all great stories it began with a potato. Longer ago than I care to admit, there was a time when I was a young and foolish teenager. Left at home on one of the rare occasions my parents went out, I got it into my thick skull to microwave a potato. Having no idea what to do, the timer was set to a shockingly high 40 minutes. The inevitable result was a dead microwave and a glowing black lump where the potato had once been. It was one of those painful experiences in life that one tries to forget but years later it opened up a line of thought. We need to get the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere down, and fast. Could microwaving plant material help? Using patented technology, I’ve been working with a team to set up a new company called Carbonscape which is doing just that.

As many readers will know, technology now exists to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) direct from any major source that emits the offending gas. The crucial point is that the carbon dioxide can be captured and stored underground; an approach commonly referred to Carbon Capture and Storage (or CCS). This does sound rather wonderful but unfortunately there are still major problems. There are very real concerns that CCS may not be the environmental solution it’s cracked up to be: this technology only deals with greenhouse gas emissions produced by large single sources, such as power stations, while the captured gases that are supposedly stored have the potential of escaping back 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.

Using photosynthesis, plants are remarkably efficient absorbers of carbon dioxide. One alternative approach is to utilise natural sinks for sequestering carbon. Forests are one possibility. The potential of the terrestrial biosphere is enormous. Consider 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.

charcoalFortunately, however, we know from scientific studies that charcoal can store carbon for thousands of years. Ancient fires preserved in archaeological sites, including those found with ancient human remains, 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.

We’ve taken this idea a step further at Carbonscape. Developing an industrial-scale unit, we’re converting 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.

At Carbonscape we hope we’re adding 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 potatoes or wood that can be turned into charcoal: other organic material (even sewage) can be turned into a permanent carbon sink.

The possibilities for fixing carbon are truly enormous.

Agron J 100:178-181 (2008)
DOI: 10.2134/agrojnl2007.0161

The Charcoal Vision: A Win–Win–Win Scenario for Simultaneously Producing Bioenergy, Permanently Sequestering Carbon, while Improving Soil and Water Quality

David A. Laird*

USDA, ARS, National Soil Tilth Laboratory, 2150 Pammel Dr., Ames, IA 50011
* Corresponding author (

Processing biomass through a distributed network of fast pyrolyzers may be a sustainable platform for producing energy from biomass. Fast pyrolyzers thermally transform biomass into bio-oil, syngas, and charcoal. The syngas could provide the energy needs of the pyrolyzer. Bio-oil is an energy raw material (~17 MJ kg–1) that can be burned to generate heat or shipped to a refinery for processing into transportation fuels. Charcoal could also be used to generate energy; however, application of the charcoal co-product to soils may be key to sustainability. Application of charcoal to soils is hypothesized to increase bioavailable water, build soil organic matter, enhance nutrient cycling, lower bulk density, act as a liming agent, and reduce leaching of pesticides and nutrients to surface and ground water. The half-life of C in soil charcoal is in excess of 1000 yr. Hence, soil-applied charcoal will make both a lasting contribution to soil quality and C in the charcoal will be removed from the atmosphere and sequestered for millennia. Assuming the United States can annually produce 1.1 x 109 Mg of biomass from harvestable forest and crop lands, national implementation of The Charcoal Vision would generate enough bio-oil to displace 1.91 billion barrels of fossil fuel oil per year or about 25% of the current U.S. annual oil consumption. The combined C credit for fossil fuel displacement and permanent sequestration, 363 Tg per year, is 10% of the average annual U.S. emissions of CO2–C.