We’re big fans of turning waste into something useful. Biochar fits that bill perfectly. It's a well understood process and using it for carbon removal has a high technology readiness level. Putting waste biomass through pyrolysis in a low oxygen environment produces biochar and stablizes the carbon so it can’t escape for over a 1000 years.
Biochar has a range of uses, from improving soil health and crops when spread on farmland, to replacing fossil fuel based materials in products or construction. For example, Biochar has the potential to substitute up to 20% of carbon intensive cement in building processes and works as a stable filler material in the textile and plastic industry. Win!
Ever since we hear about Novocarbo's plans we've been hooked on their progress. We’re thrilled to include them in our .
Permanence of carbon removal: 1000+ years
Novocarbo is a leading European biochar producer and we’re excited to be working with them. They want to make carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and the green energy transition integral to all businesses’ core practices and we couldn’t agree with them more.
Their Germany based team is multi-disciplined - made up of scientists, soil enthusiasts, engineers and business professionals - that enables them to take a holistic approach to unlock the benefits of a sustainable and prosperous economy.
They have longstanding experience in pyrolysis, biochar production, and biochar application, with a proven track record of carbon sink permanence and safety and are ready to scale internationally. In addition to biochar, Novocarbo’s facilities also produce heat as a byproduct which can be used to generate green energy. So good, consider us hyped to be involved!
To make the biochar, their main feedstock comes from ligneous waste or agricultural residues. This is 80% forest residues that are left over from woodchip production or chopped trimmings from municipalities, 10% sieve overflows that cannot be used in regional composting locations, and 10% waste wood of classification A1 that has no contaminations. They only work with certified, regional PFEC biomass businesses.
Production practices in Germany are environmentally conscious. For example, Germany has one of the strictest regulations when it comes to fertilization and its impact on European biodiversity, including consideration of set-aside land to enhance biodiversity. Novocarbo only uses waste biomass residues to produce their biochar, and no direct feedstock is cultivated.
We love their approach of getting the absolute most out of what many would consider waste. They’re sequestering carbon for hundreds to thousands of years, replacing fossil materials, generating green energy all from something that would have otherwise been left to rot or burnt. By turning it into useful biochar, this prevents releasing the CO₂ back into the atmosphere where it would have contributed to climate change.
Their vision for a circular economy, where we get the most from the materials we have and waste as little as possible is something we’re inspired by. Turning this mission into our shared reality is a key part of solving the climate crisis.
Caspar von Ziegner, CEO of Novocarbo, founded the company in 2017 together with an investor. He had previously studied industrial engineering and worked in the energy environment for many years. Having grown up on a farm, agriculture has always played a major role in his life.
The hypothesis that led to the company's founding back then and still drives him and the entire Novocarbo team: if we still want to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, we need to push forward with CDR-solutions. Based on the already well-developed pyrolysis technology and the multiple product benefits of biochar, Novocarbo's business model was born.
And of course, at Novocarbo, it's not just Caspar who combines his personal passion with a desire to actively contribute to climate protection:
Novocarbo CCO Venna von Lepel, besides her background in communication and business consulting, is an educated farmer. In her Berlin city garden, she and her family began experimenting with biochar to regenerate the sandy, lifeless soil. Experiencing the positive effects of biochar has made her even more enthusiastic about this multifunctional product and carbon removal solutions in general.
The company now employs over 28 people in Germany and are verified under the European Biochar Certification and Puro Standard for quality.
It's more permanent than storing carbon in trees. In the right conditions, biochar has the potential to safely store carbon for 1000 years or more.
Novocarbo use forest residues that are left over from woodchip production or chopped trimmings from municipalities. They only work with certified, regional PFEC businesses and do not cultivate biomass to produce the biochar.
Novocarbo's biochar production facility, in collaboration with Thyssenkrupp Rothe Erde.
The waste biomass is heated to a particular temperature in a low oxygen environment which means it doesn't burn. This process creates biochar. The carbon in the waste is stabilized and cannot be easily re-emitted to contribute to climate change.
Biochar has a range of uses, from improving soil health and crops when spread on farmland, or displacing fossil or chemical fertilizers to replacing fossil fuel based materials in products or construction.
Novocarbo operates two existing plants in Germany, with a third coming online this year. They will remove around 4,000 tons of CO₂ this year and will open 3 new facilities in 2024 with the capacity to remove around 15,000 tons of CO₂ annually.
From then onwards, they will double their output every year with 10 to 12 facilities in place by 2025 with a removal output of 30,000 tonnes, 60,000 tonnes in 2026, 120,000 tonnes in 2027.
By doubling capacity every year they'll reach one million tonnes of carbon removal, operating from around 200 facilities, by 2031.
To achieve Net Zero (& beyond) we need to grow global carbon removal capacity to somewhere between 5 to 10 gigatonnes per year by 2050. Biochar has the potential - from a carbon storage permanence, additionality and scaling potential - to contribute a significant proportion of the total we need to develop and deploy.
Zopeful's Carbon Removal Portfolios primarily look at solutions that are as-permanent-as-possible-for-the-$, combined with additionality and verifiability. As you may know from our climate courses, we're very conscious of climate justice issues as well. There can be no full transition to a zero emissions world that isn't just. We're including carbon removal partners in the portfolios that engage and include local communities in the countries they operate in.
Novocarbo will engage with and provide jobs in the local communities they develop projects in by establishing green industries in rural regions. They also work alongside local business (Wirtschaftsförderungsverbände) development agencies, as well as engaging with the local schools to create raised gardens and grow organic vegetables and fruit on biochar substrates near our pyrolysis sites.
In the NC Ruhr site region, they are planning to include local feedstock from the city as well as street trimming and bring it back to the community by offering biochar to the nearby communities to preserve their city trees.
We know that our mission to remove 1 Megaton of CO2 by 2031 is ambitious. But in order to create an economy which operates within the planetary boundaries we need to make use of all the opportunities we have now.
Carbon Removal Manager, Novocarbo
As you’ll be aware from our climate courses, slowing and reversing climate change not only requires us to drastically reduce emissions from current levels, we also need to take out hundreds of billions of tonnes we’ve already added to the atmosphere over the last 200 years.
To achieve Net Zero (& beyond) we need to grow global carbon removal capacity to somewhere between 5 to 10 gigatonnes per year by 2050.
Biochar produced purely from waste land management and agricultural biomass - there’s a huge amount of it around the world - has a high level of readiness to scale-up to millions of tonnes that can grow as quickly as we want it to. Its potential combined use as carbon removal and carbon negative replacement material to fossil fuel inputs is super exciting to us. It offers a tantalizing glimpse of what a materially efficient and circular economy could look like in our future.
Novocarbo is a leader in making this a reality and we can’t wait to see what they do next as they continue to research, develop and deploy their solutions!
Read more about Biochar and why we include it in our Carbon Removal Portfolio 👇
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