Q&A with CHAR Technologies’ Andrew White

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CHAR is a cleantech development and services company that has gained attention in renewable natural gas and agriculture circles with its application of High Temperature Pyrolysis (HTP) to convert low-value solid waste into renewable and value-added biocarbon products

by – a Meat Business Pro exclusive

CHAR acquired Altech, which had a background in air and water treatment solutions, and CharTech Solutions has combined the experience and expertise from Altech to apply HTP technology for waste streams generated from livestock and agricultural industries.  

With the emphasis on accelerating agricultural sustainable development and Ottawa’s push to cut greenhouse gas emissions, CHAR just may have the solution the farming industry is looking for to reduce their environmental footprint while at the same time, capturing new economic opportunities in the fight against climate change. 

Meat Business Pro (MBP) spoke with CHAR’s co-founder and CEO, Andrew White (AW), about this exciting science and their mission to employ innovative technology solutions to convert waste streams into renewable and valuable “green” energy.

“I think our high temperature pyrolysis technology offering is uniquely suited for the agriculture space”

MBP: Please explain how your pyrolysis program ties into the meat industry and agriculture?

AW: I’ll take a quick step back and talk about how our high temperature pyrolysis technology works, it is our core and proprietary solution for clients. High temperature pyrolysis is basically heating material up in the complete absence of oxygen, so nothing burns. It gets thermo-chemically converted into two product streams. One product stream is an energy rich gas. We call it pyrolysis gas and it is a gas with methane and hydrogen in it. And the other product is a biochar or biocarbon. 

One project that we have under development is working with a large animal protein manufacturer. They have two waste streams that they are challenged with. One is a sludge from their on-site wastewater treatment plant, and the other is a fiber, manure that’s primarily straw that is shoveled out of the trucks once the animals are delivered to the facility. The site is spending a substantial amount on waste disposal costs to get this material to landfills or to a compost. 

What our technology then does with high temperature pyrolysis is we heat these sludge and fiber materials up in the absence of oxygen. Because there’s no oxygen, and we’re heating up to 850C without burning, the waste gets converted into two product streams, one is biochar and the other is pyrolysis gas. 

MBP: What exactly is biochar and pyrolysis gas?

AW: Essentially, the nutrients that are in the waste streams, potassium and phosphorus, get concentrated in this biochar which is high in fixed carbon. It has a nutrient value as well as carbon sequestration benefits that can be recognized in the form of carbon credits. The pyrolysis gas has high energy value, where we use a small quantity to run our own system to get those high temperatures, because we’re not using natural gas or any external fuel sources, but generating our own gas to burn for the heat. In this way we can offset natural gas expense while using our gas as a source of green hydrogen or as a renewable natural gas. At a high level, that’s what we’re all about within the meat industry.

MBP: When you started working with this kind of technology, did you see this as being a sustainable solution for the Agriculture industry in general?

AW: Initially, when I started the company out of university in 2011, I was looking at anaerobic digesters and if we could use high temperature pyrolysis to convert fiber organic waste left over into products like biochar or methane so it always had a bit of an agricultural bent. At the time, many Ontario based anaerobic digesters were primarily being used at dairy facilities, running 50% on dairy manure and the rest on off-farm wastes. Obviously, the biogas industry has grown to encompass all sorts of sites, but from an agriculture perspective, we’re taking this byproduct fiber and processing it through pyrolysis to create our energy products, but also in a way to recycle the nutrients. This is more efficient because we’re concentrating the residuals in our carbon, so it’s much higher in potassium and phosphorus, which can then be used as an ingredient in a more comprehensive fertilizer plant.

MBP: At its core, the farm level is really what you’re aiming at. How much waste are we talking about with your process?

AW: To give you a sense of scale, our smallest unit can process about 500 kilos per hour of material. We have an operation in London, Ontario, that processes about 750 kilos per hour, and our biggest system would be 3.5 tonnes per hour. 

MBP: If I was a farmer, how would I get this technology onto my farm? What would be the process and cost to me?

AW: Basically, we would need to better understand what the waste stream is we’re dealing with. In agriculture, although we never want to see waste, its challenging to determine value for the feedstocks that we process. So that’s number one. Number two, what are the opportunities for the energy that we will create? Is it a large facility that needs gas for heating or running boilers for pasteurizing? What’s the onsite energy use? Can our gas be used to supplement that? The third piece is location. If it’s a large enough facility, could we actually look at making renewable natural gas and or green hydrogen, and finding a market opportunity for that product. And on top of that, determining the kind of equipment for the farmer or the facility, and obviously supporting them through the installation and process. 

MBP: Are market and revenue opportunities searching part of your product offering?

AW: We have a subsidiary called Char Biocarbon, that can take the biochar (the fertilizer material), and contract that under a revenue sharing agreement. If the client is looking at a larger facility, perhaps with pipeline infrastructure for instance, with a good opportunity to make renewable natural gas or green hydrogen, we would consider a more overall partnership model where we could even bring some of the capital to the table to build the facility and share in overall project revenues.

MBP: Could this actually become a passive revenue stream for the average livestock farmer?

AW: Yes, once it’s installed there are opportunities with high temperature pyrolysis that make a lot of sense to livestock farmers.

MBP: Is there a government funding initiative tie-in as well?

AW: Yes, our product definitely ticks some of the boxes governments like to fund. It is a clean technology, it generatesgreen energy, it provides carbon reduction, and the biochar that’s created does have some carbon credit value.

MBP: When you started CHAR, were agriculture initiatives for carbon sustainability part of the funding model?

AW: When the company was first launched, we were funded by the Ontario Centre’s of Excellence and Sustainable Development Technology Canada because our aim was helping support the biogas and anaerobic digestion industry by creating additional energy out of the leftover fibers from those operations. Of course, our scope and capabilities has grown since then.

MBP: What other areas of the agriculture industry are you focusing on besides livestock?

AW:  Crop residuals are also very interesting to us because they have a lot of fiber and, and at a high level, we like good fibrous material that has volatiles with it. Mixing straw with the sludge gives you lots of energy value, and our reactor especially likes that kind of fibrous material. When we talk about purpose grown crops, we are able to convert those products into renewable gases as well. In general, the non-agricultural industry tends to overlook that this material has an economic value for the farmer. There’s a tremendous opportunity to convert that material into biochar that can go back into the fields but also has a carbon sequestration, carbon credit piece to it, while also producing valuable green energy.

MBP: There’s a significant climate awareness component playing into this as well. What do you see being the long-range benefit 10 years from now for farmers?

AW: I think the opportunity is only going to grow because I don’t have any doubt that there is going to be some sort of an economic price on CO2 emissions whether it would be a tax cap or whatever. But if we’re offsetting things like natural gas where we’re insulating the energy costs on site from those taxes, then that has high monetary value for the farmer. The other piece on the gas side is if we’re producing a gas to sell to the market, whether it’s a renewable natural gas or green hydrogen, I see the value of those gases increasing over time as there’s a desire to push away from fossil fuels. And then the final piece is the biochar. There is economic value just from carbon credits now for biochar, and again, that’s something that’s going to continue to grow. I think just the carbon credit piece alone will be enough to drive the economics of the project and see increased returns over time.

MBP: Is there anyone else in Canada using this type of technology?

AW: There are other options out there including one that people may be familiar with called gasification. But we’re one of the very small handful that are deployinghigh temperature pyrolysis technology. I think our offering is uniquely suited for the agriculture space.

MBP: Are your services available just in Canada or are you looking into foreign markets as well?

AW: We are North American wide. The U.S. is an interesting market now because the new administration is moving quickly on some of the environmental pieces that make a project like this more economically attractive, both from a product output piece and from a capital coverage via grants and other financial offerings perspective. 

For more information, visit https://chartechnologies.com/

 

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