How a company managed to produce a 'biochar' fuel from sewage without emitting CO2

Ingelia, a Spanish company, developed an industrial process for producing biocarbon fuel.
It can also be made from sewage.

Although the product is similar to coal, it's actually carbon neutral.

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The European Commision pledged that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

To actually reach that goal, everyone must work hard, but the chances of success are not good. The UN has stated that "unprecedented changes" are required to stop climate change.

Spanish company Ingelia might have the answer: it has developed an industrial process to make a biocarbon called "biochar", which can be used to replace traditional coal as an alternative energy source.

UN agency for climate change prepared a report calling for "rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in every aspect of society". Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

Marisa Hernndez and two other Ingelia partners developed an industrial process that converts organic waste into biochar a decade ago.

It works and burns just like coal, but it has far fewer residual pollutants. Despite having the same energy potential as standard coal, the production process produces zero CO2 emissions and produces much less harmful wastes, such as nitrogen, sulfur and chlorine.

From sewage to compost to viable fuel

The CEO explained that under certain pressure and temperature conditions (20 bars) and 200C (200C), we dehydrate organic matter and then siphon off the humid matter to liquid form. We concentrate 95% of carbon in waste.

Ingelia's thermochemical process, also known as hydrothermalcarbonization, produces harmful wastes like nitrogen, sulfur and chlorine that are siphoned away in the residual liquid.

After eight hours of processing, the result is a hard, dry, cylindrical material. It could be used to replace fossil-derived carbon fuel.

Ingelia uses high pressure heat and high temperature to treat waste materials such as sewage in order to make its biochar fuel. Shutterstock

Co-founder noted that the composting process produces unpleasant odours. This can be avoided by keeping the waste matter in closed tanks. This allows plants to be located closer to the population centers.

Hernndez stated that the method has the same combustion structure and calorific value. She said that unlike standard composting and biogas plants, which can take around 30 days to complete, our process takes only eight hours.

From Valencia's small beginnings to international expansion

Hernndez's perseverance earned Ingelia's co-founder and CEO nomination for the Women's Category of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Awards (EIT), presented earlier this month at the annual conference in Budapest.

This process has been outsourced to the company's waste plants in Spain and Italy. The process was also used by Italy's largest sewage management company, which treats 80,000 tons of sewage annually in Tuscany. Oostende in Belgium will have a plant that processes 20,000 tons organic waste matter and has four reactors.

Marisa Hernndez co-founder of Ingelia said that their cleaner fuel could replace 220,000 tonnes of coal annually by 2022. EIT

Hernndez explained that we use organic collection, the organic portion municipal waste and even garden waste.

Ingelia closed 2017 with a turnover totaling $2.29 Million and plans to increase its revenue to $3.44 Million by the end of 2018. Next year will see the real surge. Ingelia anticipates that Ingelia will reach $28.4million in turnover in 2019 and $107 million by 2022.

You invest in these types of projects during the first year. The executive stated that we are currently in the first phase with moderate sales. But, the next year will be the time when the jump happens. Hernndez said that her company is currently in talks with most waste management companies in Spain.

Biopolymers, energy, and batteries

This Spanish company proposes a method of storing renewable energy as biomass. However, this biochar can also be used for other purposes.

It could be used for batteries or to make specific materials like biopolymers. This could be for making plastics or as a substitute for peat in soil enrichment.

Biochar can also be used for other purposes. It could be used as a battery charger or to replace peat in soil enrichment. normanack via Flickr

"With our process we'd be in a position to replace 220,000 tonnes of coal per annum and avoid the emission from half a million tons CO2 into the atmosphere by 2022," stated the CEO. He also said that the company planned to capture 3% of Europe's waste management market.