South Australian firm aims for activated charcoal breakthrough

| February 9, 2018

New technology developed in South Australia that will make it more affordable to convert agricultural waste into high value activated carbon could soon be on the market, thanks to a $217,000 State Government grant.

Adelaide based company ByGen’s breakthrough product has the potential to convert millions of tonnes of low-value agricultural waste into high value activated carbon, which can be used to remediate contaminated soil and mine sites.

The grant was provided through the South Australian Early Commercialisation Fund (SAECF) – administered by high-tech accelerator, TechInSA.

Activated carbon is used to purify soils and liquids by adsorbing pollutants. It also has the potential to be used in water purification.

Although activated carbon can be made from agricultural wastes, the costs currently associated with it are high. Most activated carbon is made from expensive and non-renewable hardwood or coal, rather than cheap and abundant sources of agricultural waste.

The ByGen process enables on-site conversion of agricultural waste into high-value activated carbon – or biochar – using a compact and mobile unit which operates at a lower cost than current methods.

The unit can be easily and cost effectively transported to multiple sites.

ByGen’s unique technology optimises activation by balancing gas composition, temperature and timing to produce energy, biochar – a soil enhancer – and activated carbon.

It does not require high temperature steam or other highly pure activation gases, meaning there is no need for major infrastructure.

The South Australian Early Commercialisation Fund (SAECF) is administered by high-tech accelerator TechInSA. The fund aims to allow new technologies developed in SA to be taken to market.

South Australia’s Innovation and Science Minister Kyam Maher said the state government was creating the jobs of the future by supporting companies like ByGen.

“The global market for activated carbon is estimated to be worth around US$5 billion annually and is growing rapidly.

Without this technology we can expect the cost for high value carbon to escalate, as demand for housing grows, increasing the need to use land previously occupied by industry.

This technology provides South Australia with the opportunity to tap into around $1 billion of revenue annually.

It’s great to see a local SA company tackling such a significant global problem.”

ByGen CEO Lewis Dunnigan notes that each year millions of tonnes of agricultural waste get discarded because it is too expensive to process.

“In the South East of the State alone there is estimated to be around 5.5 million tonnes per annum of accessible waste biomass generated from crop waste, saw dust, animal waste and nut shells.

If this was able to be converted to activated carbon it would represent revenue of around $1billion per year.

If activated carbon was able to be more economically manufactured and more affordable it could be used to remediate more sites around the world at a significantly more affordable cost.”