Education

Biocoal from organic waste

 By Amanda Saint

A UK company has developed and patented an innovative solution that replicates nature to turn organic matter into carbon neutral coal – known as biocoal – that can be burned in existing power stations. Biocoal is made from all types of biomass and bio-residues – which represent an abundantly available resource. Not only is this resource available for free, it also has the potential to generate income by providing a disposal solution for unwanted bio-residues including agricultural biowaste, sewage sludge and food leftovers…

The process that Antaco has developed, called Hydrothermal Carbonisation (HTC), enables low-value organic waste (biowaste) to be turned into a high-value solid biocoal. Using a combination of heat and pressure, the process chemically transforms biowaste into a carbon dense material similar to fossil coal. It has been proven to have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2-emissions) of any biomass to biofuel conversion process and the only byproduct is clean water (no toxins).

The potential for this new technology is huge as in the UK alone around 30 million metric tons (33 million short tons) of biowaste is available to be used each year — a volume that has the potential to cut the country’s carbon emissions by 36 metric tons (40 million short tons) in the same period if it’s converted to biocoal.

Biocoal can be made from all types of organic waste, including previously unwanted bio-residues such as agricultural biowaste, sewage sludge and food leftovers. So not only are the building blocks of biocoal abundantly available, they also provide waste companies with the potential to generate additional income by offering a disposal solution for previously unusable organic waste.

Energy utility companies and power stations can burn the biocoal in exactly the same way as they would burn coal, meaning they don't have to invest in costly conversions of existing machinery and that they can deliver power with a fraction of the carbon emissions at lower cost

A 2009 European Union green paper identified a huge issue the continent is facing if landfills continue to be used for organic waste — the continual rising of greenhouse gas emissions. The race has been on since then to find ways to address this problem. Vast improvements in the levels of biowaste recyclying have already been seen in many countries, but the Antaco HTC biocoal process is one of the first solutions that not only addresses the landfill problem, but actually takes the waste and turns it into an energy source that can help cut greenhouse gas emissions even further by improving the environmental performance of energy generation too.

Energy utility companies and power stations can burn the biocoal in exactly the same way as they would burn coal, meaning they don’t have to invest in costly conversions of existing machinery and that they can deliver power with a fraction of the carbon emissions at lower cost.

The Antaco biocoal solution has already won several prestigious cleantech awards and in 2014 was awarded a €1 million ($1.1 million) grant from the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to design a prototype plant with a water company, turning sewage from 700 homes into biocoal. So the UK’s power stations could potentially be running on biocoal in the not too distant future.

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.