Cocoa bean shells are fed into one end of a red-brick factory in Hamburg, Germany, and come out the other as an incredible black powder that may be used to slow global warming.
Biochar is created by heating cocoa husks to 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit) in an oxygen-free space.
The procedure traps greenhouse gases, and the resulting material can be utilized as fertilizer or as a component of “green” concrete.
Even though the biochar sector is relatively young, scientists claim the technology offers a creative solution to remove carbon from the atmosphere of the planet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN estimates that biochar has the potential to be used to capture 2.6 billion of the 40 billion tonnes of CO2 that humanity now produces annually.
However, expanding its use is still difficult.
Peik Stenlund, CEO of Circular Carbon, told AFP at the biochar factory in Hamburg, “We are reversing the carbon cycle.
One of the largest plants in Europe receives the spent cocoa shells from a nearby chocolate factory via a system of gray pipes.
In a method that might be applied to any other plant, the biochar captures the CO2 present in the husks.
The carbon contained in the unused byproduct of the cocoa shells would be released into the atmosphere as it decayed if they were disposed of as usual.
Instead, according to David Houben, an environmental scientist at the UniLaSalle center in France, the carbon is stored in the biochar “for centuries.”
Before being rediscovered by scientists studying incredibly fertile soils in the Amazon basin in the 20th century, biochar was already being utilized as fertilizer by indigenous communities in the Americas.
Because of the surprise substance’s sponge-like structure, more water and nutrients are absorbed by the soil, which benefits crops.
The factory in Hamburg is warmed by the heat produced by the installation’s piping and enveloped in a slight chocolate scent.
The finished product is dumped into white bags and sold as granules to nearby farms.
Silvio Schmidt, a 45-year-old farmer who raises potatoes west of Hamburg, near Bremen, is one of these farmers. In order to “give more nutrients and water” to his sandy soils, Schmidt expects that the biochar will do so.
A certain amount of biogas is also produced throughout the production process, known as pyrolysis, and it is sold to the nearby plant. The plant uses 10,000 tonnes of cocoa shells annually to produce 3,500 tonnes of biochar and “up to 20 megawatt hours” of gas.
It is still challenging to scale up the production technique to the level the IPCC has in mind.
“Everything needs to be done locally, with little to no transportation, to ensure that the system stores more carbon than it creates. Otherwise, it is illogical,” claimed Houben.
Additionally, not all soil types can benefit greatly from biochar. According to Houben, the fertilizer is “more effective in tropical climates” but the raw components for its synthesis are not widely accessible.
At “around 1,000 euros a tonne — that’s too much for a farmer,” he continued, the price can also be prohibitive.
Houben claimed that different uses for the potent black powder would need to be discovered. For instance, biochar might be used in the construction industry to create “green” concrete.
However, the biochar industry has come up with another approach to make money: selling carbon certificates.
The plan is to market certificates to businesses seeking to offset their carbon emissions by creating a specific volume of biochar.
The CEO of the company, Stenlund, stated that “we are seeing strong growth in (the) sector” as a result of the inclusion of biochar in the strictly controlled European carbon credits system. In the upcoming months, his company plans to open three new locations to increase biochar production.
Biochar projects are expanding all over Europe. The biochar industry organization estimates that production will nearly treble to 90,000 tonnes this year from 2022 levels.