Monday, September 17, 2007

Agricultural Carbon Wastes to Useful Industrial Carbon

New renewable industry may turn farm waste to commercially viable carbon

A pilot factory based in Gunnedah, NSW, and perhaps with a second unit in Toowoomba, Queensland, could spearhead the emergence of an industrial process able to turn farm wastes into charcoal beads, thereby providing a new source of renewable energy.

Eco-Carbons Pty Ltd's spokesman, Michael Neil, says the thrust of the process is to convert organic waste materials such as cereal grain 'seconds', husks, fruit stones, nut shells, and even straw, into carbon products suitable for industrial and domestic applications. "Our research and development programme has given us the confidence to trial carbonisation plants to produce, under controlled conditions, charcoal fuel beads for a range of applications in Australia," Mr Neil said. "The energy given off sustains the kiln itself, plus delivers surplus energy that can even be channelled into an electricity grid." Could this be a suitable application for the mountains of wasted, discarded "shells" of many agricultural products? Many have tried before, here in Australia and overseas, with the utilisation of rice husks a key issue in Asia, for example. Almost all have failed!

The plant's three-stage process involves milling, the formation of beads using natural binders, prior to churning out lightweight and highly porous carbon fuel beads. As a bonus the construction industry stands to benefit from a spin-off product, namely lightweight concrete, using these beads as an aggregrate substitute which should help reduce building costs.

Then there's the interesting possibility of providing horticultural industries with a product able to retain water and stimulate plant growth without suffering from high evaporation rates. Mr Neil says the associated benefits from the process also could see the provision of material with good insulation properties, plus improved soil properties since the end product is non-toxic. Australian soils are deficient in soil carbon, commonly in the form of organic matter, but there are soils elsewhere in the wolrd, notably the terra petra" soils of a few areas of the Amazon that do have a broadly similar carbon material in them.[ see other post]

Originally a Canadian initiative, the task now is to acquire venture capital to set up a fully operational site, with Gunnedah currently looking to be the most likely location.

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