This Is CDR is an ongoing series of online events to explore the range of carbon dioxide removal solutions that are currently in development. This week, we talk to Dr. Kevin Kung about Takachar, the biochar-based, Earthshot-prize-winning carbon-removal company he cofounded.
As regular This Is CDR viewers will know, a lot of existing emissions come from excess biomass. Every season, plants capture gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But a lot of that goes right back into the atmosphere as those plants rot or are burned.
Waste biomass can be made into fuels, chemicals, and fertilizers. But the current economics of doing that aren’t great because most large-scale biomass-processing tech is centralized. That means residues have to be collected and transported, which is difficult and expensive. If you’re in a rural place with a lot of biomass (say, a corn field after the harvest), you don’t have a lot of options for converting that biomass to money, so you’re most likely just going to burn it.
This is where Takachar comes in. They’re working on small portable processors that can hook onto the back of tractors and convert different types of waste biomass into higher-value products. This both creates new value for farmers and prevents CO2 from being reemitted into the atmosphere.
Takachar’s systems require no external fuel (they’re powered by the energy released by the biomass itself), and allow the user to customize the bioproducts they produce. They could even be set up to automatically customize their output based on feed materials, weather conditions, and market prices. And in lab tests, they’ve reduced the outputted carbon dioxide of removing the waste biomass by as much as 95 percent.
Who might benefit most immediately from this technology? Dr. Kung cites the example of Kenyan vegetable farmers who pay two to five times the international average for fertilizer imported from centralized plants. With locally produced, biomass-based fertilizer produced by Takachar, these farmers are able to increase their yields up to 27% with the same expenditures. Takachar’s revenue from this pilot program offsets the costs of producing the fertilizer, meaning that they’re achieving carbon removal at a negative price. So far they’ve worked with around 5000 farmers, and removed around 11,000 tons of CO2.
Having proved out their concept in Kenya, Takachar now looks to expand. You can learn more about what’s next for them, as well as the details of their technology and business plan, by watching Dr. Kung’s presentation. And be sure to check back next week for more This Is CDR! You can also catch up with the full series on our resources page.