Microwaves turn wood waste to high-value carbon

  • 02/11/2014

We all know not to put metal in the microwave, but what happens if you put a potato in for 40 minutes?

It turns out it makes something of a black gold, and a Blenheim company has received almost $170,000 in backing to commercialise it.

"I think microwaves have been a largely overlooked idea," says Tim Langley of CarbonScape. "It's a technology that we almost all have in our homes, but as a commercial heat source for anything other than perhaps drying food we haven't really looked at it."

Blenheim-based company CarbonScape is using microwaves to turn wood waste from forestry into high-value carbon products in what it says is a world first.

The idea came to founder Chris Turney when he recalled what happened to a potato he tried to cook as a 12-year-old.

"He did it for 20 minutes and put it on for another 20, and he basically blew up the microwave, but he turned his potato into a pure block of charcoal," says Mr Langley.

CarbonScape is concentrating its efforts in producing coke, which is virtually pure carbon. Coke is used extensively in steel-making and CarbonScape has already signed a conditional agreement to supply New Zealand Steel.

The country's largest steel manufacturer says using the so-called green coke could help them reduce their carbon footprint because traditionally coke is made from carbon-rich coal that has been underground for millions of years. When it's used in steel making, carbon is released and that contributes to the greenhouse effect.

But CarbonScape's coke is made from wood that has absorbed carbon as a tree, so no new carbon is released, and that's better for the environment.

CarbonScape is seeking investment on a crowd-funding website and has ambitious plans.

But renewable energy experts say the real test will be whether it can scale up from the lab and be competitive commercially.

"Being able to make money out of it in this environment right now where you're competing with coal, without carbon taxes, that would be a pretty impressive move," says Canterbury lecturer Susan Krumdieck.

It's an impressive move CarbonScape hopes to pull off while revolutionising microwave technology along the way.

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source: newshub archive