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In a world facing significant environmental challenges, the Impact Family is dedicated to playing a role in expanding technical solutions that confront these global issues directly.
One of the main problems facing the world today is CO₂ emissions and their disastrous environmental impact. Yet, we recognize that this is not the sole challenge demanding our attention: soil degradation poses another significant threat to our planet’s health and population.
An underrated solution that greatly contributes to both problems is the pyrolysis of waste biomass. By producing Biochar, this transformative technology becomes a dual-action solution, adeptly addressing both environmental challenges.
A post by Alice Frassin
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The Impact Family - We Find the Problem and We Scale the Existing Solutions
From 1 to many, where “many” make the difference
Although we are a company working with green-tech startups all over the world, our approach diverges from the conventional search for new technologies in the first steps.
Instead, our initial focus centers on identifying the most important environmental problems and then seek for technologies that already solve them. Often, these solutions are readily available, awaiting the scaling necessary to have an actual impact – which is what we specialize on.
This distinctive philosophy adds a shift in perspective that transforms problems into opportunities for sustainable change, helping technology developers not to go from 0 to 1, but to go from 1 to many, where only “many” really makes the difference.
Meet the WASTX Carbon: decentralized production of Biochar from waste biomass
Just recently, we introduced BioBitumen – a sustainable and oil-independent solution tailored for the asphalt industry, joining Biofabrik as the first Impact Family product. With its CO₂-negative nature, BioBitumen is able to mitigate the effect of harmful emissions of traditional road construction.
Now, we add a second CO₂-negative project: by producing Biochar, the WASTX Carbon, offers significant potential for carbon capture and sequestration. It is known for its ability to act as a carbon sink by trapping carbon and storing it in the soil for extended periods.
The synergy between BioBitumen and Biochar lies in their shared purpose of slowing down climate change and reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Global Environmental Challenges: There Is More Than Meets The Eyes
In today’s world, it is widely recognized that excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a leading cause of climate change. CO₂ emissions originate from a multitude of sources, and contribute to the greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the atmosphere and leading to rising global temperatures.
According to the International Energy Agency, in 2022, there was a 0.9% increase in global energy-related CO₂ emissions, amounting to an additional 321 million metric tons, which resulted in a record-breaking total of more than 36.8 billion metric tons.
But this is not only a later trend, as the total number of globally produced CO₂ emissions is ever-increasing, year by year, as shown in the following graphic:
Numerous strong global initiatives are underway to tackle CO₂ emissions and mitigate their impact and we can already see positive results. Nevertheless, we are still a long way from net-zero, and even if we were to reach it, it alone would not be enough to tackle the problem in its entirety.
As CO₂ emissions stay in the atmosphere for many hundred years, we must also actively remove CO₂ from the atmosphere to effectively combat climate change.
There are other promising approaches, such as carbon capturing, but these are still in their infancy. In contrast, the pyrolysis of biomass is ready for series production and only needs to be multiplied.
While CO₂ emissions remain a pressing concern, it is important to recognize the urgency of another problem, which is often overlooked and therefore escalating rapidly: soil degradation.
Intensive agricultural practices, deforestation, improper land management, pollution and population growth are all factors that cause soils to degrade: their fertility declines, water-holding capacity diminishes, and their ability to support healthy plant growth and nutrient cycling is compromised – with massive implications for the food supply.
Nutrient-rich soils sustain our agriculture and play an important role in feeding the world’s population. If this part of our ecosystem were to collapse, it could have unforeseen consequences for us all.
According to a recent study conducted by the JRC, soil erosion affects more than 12 million hectares of land across the European Union, contributing to €1.25 billion of crop productivity loss. This phenomenon quickly leads to production and planting losses, increased nutrient expenses, habitat loss, biodiversity decline, and infrastructure damage. (European Commission, 2018)
Similarly, in Africa, Lesotho demonstrates the impact, with over 100 km2 of degraded land due to overgrazing, poor farming practices, and mismanagement of resources, underscoring the global severity of the issue (World Health Organization, 2015).
What makes it particularly alarming is that the consequences are unfolding now, and are likely to intensify within the next century. If left unaddressed, this degradation will have profound implications for food security, ecosystem health, and climate change mitigation.
Biochar Through Biomass Pyrolysis: the Solution Was Found a Long Time Ago
After screening the market for the most interesting technologies, we found the solution that helps tackle both CO₂ emissions and soil degradation, which has been introduced in the introduction: producing BIOCHAR.
Biochar is a specialized form of charcoal produced through pyrolysis, a process that decomposes organic matter under controlled conditions. Dating back thousands of years, it is now emerging as a viable long-term, high-quality form of carbon sink (Microsoft, November 22, 2022).
A carbon sink is a reservoir, natural or artificial, that absorbs and stores carbon dioxide CO₂ from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change by reducing its concentration and impact as a greenhouse gas, Biochar does exactly the same.
The living organisms that are responsible for the carbon sink are the plants and trees from which the organic materials are derived: through the process of photosynthesis, these plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into organic matter, including carbon-rich biomass.
In the natural cycle, plants and trees eventually die and decompose. When that happens, they release the CO₂ they once absorbed, back into the atmosphere. This is prevented by thermally carbonizing the biomass (pyrolysis) and thus binding the carbon in the resulting plant carbon.
Biochar is produced by heating organic substances at high temperatures, under an oxygen-poor atmosphere.
Pyrolysis converts biomass into plant carbon, stabilizing the carbon and storing it in the resulting plant carbon product – or incorporating it into the soil, where it is retained for longer periods of time.
Unlike plastic pyrolysis, which usually needs external electrical energy, biomass pyrolysis can use the energy present in the biomass itself. This process resembles the controlled concept of a campfire within the reactor, where a precise amount of oxygen is introduced to sustain combustion without achieving full biomass incineration.
This way, we are able to avoid extracting coal from the ground and burning it, and replace the destructive cycle of coal consumption with producing coal and binding it in the ground, instead.
Biofabrik's Innovative Twist: Soil Fertility Reimagined Through Biomass-Pyrolysis
One of the main focuses of the Impact Family has been on technologies that are capable significantly contributing to CO₂ reduction. From our perspective, biomass pyrolysis perfectly fits this approach, as it not only reduces CO₂ but also maintains soil health.
The reason behind it is that plant charcoal actually helps maintain soil health, improving its water absorption and nutrient retention, supporting beneficial microbial activities, and stabilizing its structure: all factors that lead to improved fertility and resilience.
After carefully screening the market, we realized that there is more than one great technology existing out there to address one single problem.
The core of our strategy lies not necessarily in implementing a single technology for each problem, but rather in identifying the ideal solution for each unique situation, tailoring our approach to meet the specific needs and challenges presented.
At Biofabrik, we work together with technology providers that produce biochar from biomass and we help them scale their product on a global level, giving them the opportunity to multiply their initial idea and have a real, substantial impact on the environment.