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


  1. The production of charcoal could be used as a bush fire protection mechanism.After a fire forresters could enter the burnt bush and arrange the collection of downed timeber and removal of some damaged trees. Portable charcoal making machines could be taken into the bush or at least established near the burnt bush as part of the porcesss. It is not envisaged that such a bush cleaning operation would make a profit rather it would reduce the level of combustabel material enabliing tradional burning techniques to be used because of the reduced fuel. Africa makes 23 million tons of charcoal a year, it could be the destination of excess charcoal. Papua New Guinea is even closer and uses charcoal extensively for cooking.Forrest management needs to be co ordinated. There are to many departments involved in the use of the bush. We create a national park stop all activity the bush grows then dries then fires. There needs to be a far greated intervention on a systematic war like footing enchancing the quality of the bush. The first land holders did not have fences houses and state boundaries to deal with we have changed the eqaution without mmaking the necessary protective practices.

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