Manmade biomass coal offers storage and fuel

New Zealand start-up invention makes biochar from captured carbon that can also be used as fuel.

Manmade coal produced by Carbonscape's Black Phantom machine. Carbonscape

A new machine dubbed the "Black Phantom" can turn biomass into manmade coal.

Carbonscape, a New Zealand-based start-up, describes its invention as an industrial-sized microwave that can cook plant waste, wood waste, and "even sewage" into coal.

Carbonscape also claims that the machine captures and stores more carbon than the amount of carbon generated by the electricity needed to power it for the process.

Why would anyone want to make more coal when humans are desperately trying to get out from under the carbon dioxide mess we've been making since the Industrial Revolution?

The invention combines two popular environmental efforts: using biochar for carbon capture and storage (CCS), and developing alternative fuel sources from biomass.

While there are issues to be worked out on carbon capture and storage (CSS) , it's seen by energy utilities and governments as a possible tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Biochar is coal made from biomass that can be buried in soil as a carbon sink or for use in farming, rather than letting decaying plants release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Biomass--agricultural and wood byproducts that can be used to make ethanol , or electricity directly --is considered by the EU, the U.S. and others as a possible answer to reducing oil dependence while providing a cleaner and more efficient way to produce and consume energy.

As reported by the Financial Times, Carbonscape's machine turns biomass into a kind of biochar to be stored underground.

Though it's unclear just how clean it would burn, Carbonscape's biochar can also be burned as fuel.

Whether or not the invention is scalable remains to be seen, but judging from who is involved Carbonscape's claims seem legit.

The company's board includes Nick Gerritsen, the director of Aquaflow Bionomic, one of the companies developing algae biodiesel; and Tim Flannery, former Harvard University professor and environmental activist known for his books "The Future Eaters" and "The Weather Makers."

About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet,, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.


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