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Biochar for Industrial Use

Tony Callaghan 16/07/2016

Biochar for Industrial Use

Industrial uses for Biochar

In this article, we look at the uses of biochar as a replacement for Activated Carbon derived from fossil fuels and other non-sustainable materials. We look at the following sections: 

(Biochar for soil, gardening farming, agriculture etc are in other blogs - see the end of the article for links).

Biochar is a sustainable, non-fossil fuel form of carbon.  Wood-based biochar (i.e. charcoal) has been made and used for many applications over millennia. As wood became scarce, and industry need more charcoal, we found new ways to make carbon and activated carbon from oil, methane gas and fossil fuel. Now we are going back to apply modern-day pyrolysis technology to make biochars from sustainable resources that have no negative impact on the environment (i.e. no polluting gasses and minimal CO2 releases).  As we do this, we are also rediscovering many old and some new ways to use the material. These properties of carbon lead to many potential uses of biochars.

We provide biochar for sale from our online store.

Biochar carbon for air filtration

Filtering odours from air and gas streams is one of the core uses of the many types of activated carbons (PAC, GAC etc) manufactured from oil, coal and methane gas. Biochar made from sustainable resources (e.g. wood) can replace some of these. But it is noteworthy that the Activated carbon industry has spent many years working on specific carbons to do specific tasks. Many Biochars are not direct replacements - it will be a case of understanding why each application requires and then matching this to the specific biochar available. 

Carbon is used in air filtration (e.g. HVAC, gas vapour streams, scrubbing gas in coal-fired power stations). 

The functionality of carbon in terms of adsorption depends on the surface chemistry and surface area. There are numerous carbon 'activation' techniques (steam, acids, nitrogen etc) used to alter the carbon for specific applications. Biochar should be tested and efforts made to fully understand the properties of the old carbon and the potential biochar replacement. 

Each raw material used to make biochar or activated carbon contains different levels of trace elements that are often carried forward from the organic material into the charcoal and or biochar. For example, wood contains silica, calcium, iron and a host of other trace metals the tree needed to make vital enzymes.  The final biochar (or activated carbon) can contain silica and calcium oxide. In most cases, these trace mineral items will not harm or interfere with carbon use – but this might not be the case. When the charcoal (activated carbon or biochar) is completely combusted (burnt in air), these trace elements convert to non-hazardous oxides and result in a grey/white ash – think of the white powder left after the BBQ burns out!


Biochar for building insulation

Biochar is both porous (holds air) and is a good heat insulator. Some researchers are looking at using biochar in buildings and roads. Personally, the author does not believe the cost/benefit analysis will support using carbon over current materials - but it is an exciting area.

Biochar for odour reduction

Per deodourisation mentioned earlier.

Biochar as a black pigment 

The black ink used in photocopiers is a form of carbon black. The largest use of carbon black is in tyre manufacture.

 In our opinion, it is unlikely biochar will be used as carbon black. The pigment is incredibly fine particles created during 'gas phase' reactions from oil. Biochar is made from 'solids and comes out as granules/pieces.  These bits would require considerable (and most likely uneconomic and dangerous (explosive) crushing to make a very fine micronized powder.

Other possible uses

- Super conductance/battery / storage devices
- Protection against electromagnetic radiation  
- Fabric additive for functional underwear
- Thermal insulation for functional clothing
- Biochar in ore and metal processing as a reduction agent
- Carbon is used in some cosmetic soaps and skin treatments
- Biochar to replace carbon black in some industrial paints

Thank you for reading our blog on the industrial use of biochar. This is one of five articles on the uses of biochar - follow the links below:

Biochar for gardeners - some surprising uses (link)
Biochar for water and gas filtration (link)
Biochar for farming and agriculture (link)
Biochar as a soil improver (main article) (link)