Envigas biochar can save Swedish steel industry

Biochar from Bureå, Skellefteå, can be the Swedish steel industry’s salvation in its quest to cut CO2 emissions. Envigas leads the rate of innovation with a proprietary process – with great possibilities.
“There’s no doubt that we’re just right in time”, says Tobias Brink, Head of Business Development.

Envigas works with pyrolysis of forest residue. This technology is based on a reactor being fed with biomass from the sawmill industry at elevated temperatures without access to oxygen, which converts the organic material into biochar and pyrolysis oil, or bio-oil as it is also called.

Bio-oil is produced for refining into transport fuel. At the same time, biochar is used in the metallurgical industry, which is Envigas' primary focus area. Still, it can also be used as soil improvement, which has become more and more popular in Sweden. Other uses of biochar are for mixing into asphalt and cement to create carbon sinks. In the long term, it is also possible to develop it into raw material in the batteries of the future where biochar is upgraded to graphite.

“This is an area we will be looking into further through our research. There are already many exciting uses today, while others are rather future markets but we are working hard to stay at the forefront all the time”, says Tobias.

 The first development facility was commissioned in January 2019. During spring 2021, the company has commissioned its large-scale production facility, which will initially produce approximately 5 000 tons of biochar and 2 000 tons of bio-oil annually.

“Pyrolysis oil is a completely new product from which transport fuel can be made. There is no doubt that this is needed to achieve future reduction obligations and other things that should be done in the transport sector”, says Tobias.

Envigas decided to change its business model in 2016 – from selling the technology to becoming a producer of biochar and bio-oil, and this turned out to be a winning decision.

“When we initially talked to customers in the metallurgical industry about biochar and replacing their fossil carbon with a green solution, they couldn’t see the need at the time. But at the turn of 2019/2020, there was a rapid change in customer opinion. Pressure on the largest companies in the metallurgical industry had then become great to reduce their carbon footprint”, says Tobias.

 The Swedish steel industry accounts for about ten per cent of total CO2 emissions in Sweden. Even in the future, biochar will be needed to produce green steel but on a smaller scale and then for creating steel alloys, among other things. You then have to use carbon atoms to achieve this and that is where Envigas biochar comes into play.

“We have had to work hard on the physical nature of biochar so that it is similar to fossil carbon. This is a conservative business. There must therefore be a step by step development in collaboration with the industry. This is the only way forward if they are to be confident that biochar meets the needs that exist, both in quality and quantity. We have the advantage of being first and can thereby set the standard”, says Tobias.

Envigas has worked hard on the physical nature of biochar together with the metallurgical industry to emulate fossil carbon as much as possible. Tobias Brink, Head of Business Development at Envigas, is convinced of the benefits of biochar in the future.

When Envigas reaches full capacity it will be the largest producer of biochar in the Nordic region, but Envigas is already looking forward to future expansion in order to meet customers' needs. Five people are currently working with production at the factory in Bureå but at least double that will be needed shortly.

In the future, there will be environmental demands for everything from tyres to plastics, steel and car batteries to use green raw materials.

“There are infinitely different applications where you can use biochar in various forms. Previously, the market hasn’t been the driving force for change but now we see that it is”, says Tobias.

Envigas office in Skellefteå

The largest manufacturer of biochar in the Nordic region is located here in Bureå, just south of Skellefteå.

 

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