New technology developed by Adelaide-based company ByGen will make it more affordable to convert agricultural waste into high value activated carbon could soon be on the market, thanks to a $217,000 state government grant.
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The company's breakthrough product has the potential to convert millions of tonnes of low-value agricultural waste into high value activated carbon, which can be used to remediate contaminated soil and mine sites, as well as potentially being used for water purification. 

The grant was provided through the South Australian Early Commercialisation Fund (SAECF), and was administered by high-tech accelerator TechInSA. The fund aims to allow new technologies developed in SA to be taken to market.

The state's innovation and science minister Kyam Maher said that by supporting companies like ByGen, the state government is helping to create the jobs and industries of the future. 

"The global market for activated carbon is estimated to be worth around US$5 billion annually and is growing rapidly," Maher said.

"Without this technology we can expect the cost for high value carbon to escalate, as demand for housing grows, increasing the need to use land previously occupied by industry. 

"This technology provides South Australia with the opportunity to tap into around $1 billion of revenue annually. 

"It's great to see the local SA company tackling such a significant global problem."

Although activated carbon can be made from agricultural wastes, the costs currently associated with it are high. Most activated carbon is made from expensive and non-renewable hardwood or coal, rather than cheap and abundant sources of agricultural waste.

The ByGen process enables on-site conversion of agricultural waste into high-value activated carbon (or biochar), using a compact and mobile unit that operates at a low cost. The unit can be easily and cost effectively transported to multiple sites. 

ByGen's technology optimises activation by balancing gas composition, temperature and timing to produce energy, biochar (a soil enhancer) and activated carbon. 

It does not require high temperature steam or other highly pure activation gases, meaning there is no need for major infrastructure.

According to ByGen CEO Lewis Dunnigan, each year millions of tonnes of agricultural waste get discarded because it is too expensive to process. 

"In the southeast of the state alone there is estimated to be around 5.5 million tonnes per annum of accessible waste biomass generated from crop waste, saw dust, animal waste and nut shells," Dunnigan said.

"If this was able to be converted to activated carbon it would represent revenue of around $1 billion per year.

"If activated carbon was able to be more economically manufactured and more affordable it could be used to remediate more sites around the world at a significantly more affordable cost."