Start-up: Biomass to biocoal (without the nasties)

Climate-KIC gives us the best possible platform for getting our ideas recognised at the European level, says Martin Bolton at award-winning UK energy start-up Antaco.

‘We’re only replicating what nature does,’ says Martin Bolton, business development director at Antaco, with a nice line in modest irony. ‘We take organic matter – including garden and food waste, sewage, sludge, manure and other dry and moist biomass – then squeeze it and heat it up, and out pops a black powder which is easily pelletised and burnt in any pellet stove.’

Antaco’s innovative commercial process turns biomass to biocoal with the same heat value as fossil coal, but without the carbon emissions when burnt. A direct replacement for fossil coal, the biofuel’s ‘coal like’ properties give it a big economic advantage over alternatives like wood pellets.

A Climate-KIC Venture Competition winner in 2012, Antaco also received €50,000 funding from Climate-KIC to develop a benchscale model of the process.

The Shell Springboard national finalist and winner of the circa €50,000 regional award has also just picked up €1m from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to design a prototype plant with a water company, turning sewage from 700 homes into biocoal.

By converting organic matter into solid biofuel, Antaco’s technology diverts waste from landfill. Crucially, the product burns in existing plant at little conversion cost. And it’s carbon neutral.

Says Martin: ‘Our coal will emit the same amount of carbon per tonne as fossil coal, but because the carbon has been taken up by plants from the atmosphere, no additional carbon is added to the atmosphere.Biocoal only emits what’s already in the carbon cycle, so the process is carbon neutral. And where fossil coal emits sulphur and other volatiles, our nasties get washed out into water.’

In terms of lifecycle analysis, Antaco’s efficient process uses just 12- 15 per cent of energy produced. No wonder commercial ears are pricking up. ‘Climate-KIC is opening doors to industry and research partners,’ says Martin Bolton. ‘It also gives us clout at the European level.’