By Simon Hunter
If you thought that black was chic think again, charcoal is fast becoming the colour of choice – well at least at CSIRO. True, we can’t quite compare our labs to the catwalks of Paris or Milan, but this season our designs (scientific) are set to cause quite a stir.
CSIRO researcher David McCallum inspecting the pilot-scale continuous slat dryer where biomass is pre-dried before pryolysis.
A new pyrolysis technology could expand charcoal production in Australia tenfold, and generate a range of valuable byproducts. The new technology aims to help the iron and steel industry and other metal extraction industries compete in a carbon-constrained economy.
The new process CSIRO is developing may be capable of producing charcoal volumes equivalent to 30 per cent or more of the annual industry coke consumption and will also capture valuable byproducts.
Naturally we’re not referring to fashion, but a new designer material made from charcoal has the potential to transform Australia’s steel industry.
Known as biochar, it’s a charcoal-like substance that can be designed for particular applications in steelmaking. By using different organic matter or biomass, heating it for different lengths of time and at different temperatures we can change its properties.
The smart part is that when used in the production of steel, it helps to reduce emissions by replacing coal and coke, with a greenhouse-neutral and renewable substitute.
Due to its chemical structure biochar is difficult for microbes to break down, which helps to reduce the amount of carbon produced when making steel.
One big advantage in Australia is the availability and supply of sustainable, natural waste that can be used to produce biochar. So far, we have developed the process for producing steel in this way and we’re working with BlueScope Steel and OneSteel to refine it.
And unlike our fashion sense, which is definitely more lab coat than Lacroix, we’re pretty certain this technology has real trendsetting potential.
Listen to Sharif Jahanshahi, leader of sustainable metal production research: HERE