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Creating and sustaining Charcoal value chains to promote a Circular Carbon economy in North-West Europe


Previous research and development activities have shown that it is possible and sustainable to use plant carbon as an alternative raw material for products in the agriculture, wastewater, health and cosmetics industries. However, further action and support are needed to achieve widespread market penetration.

Objectives and approach

THREE C aims to develop and introduce economically viable and environmentally sustainable value chains based on plant and activated carbon products from residual biomass in Northwest Europe.

The Department of Grassland Science and Renewable Resources at the University of Kassel is leading and coordinating the collaborative project. In addition, the suitability of activated carbon from residual biomass for the removal of trace substances from municipal wastewater as well as the underlying mechanisms are being researched. In addition to adapted biomass treatment using the established concept for integrated solid fuel and biogas production from biomass (IFBB process) and the development of adapted pyrolysis and activation processes, the focus here is particularly on research into adsorption mechanisms. Of particular interest here are the clarification of the influences of the initial biomass and the surface properties of the activated carbon on the adsorption of specific substances.

The plant press juice obtained by the IFBB process is used by anaerobic digestion to produce methane and thus for energy production. Since the addition of plant and activated carbon in anaerobic processes can accelerate and stabilize biodegradation processes, the mechanisms underlying this effect are being investigated in a second research focus. In addition to increasing methane yield and improving biogas quality, this could also contribute to stabilizing anaerobic processes in biogas plants. This is a promising approach not only for energy production from renewable resources (biogas). By subsequently spreading the digestate on agricultural land, charcoal can make a sustainable contribution to the storage of CO2, soil improvement and retention of nutrients.

Innovations and prospects

Building on the promising results from the predecessor project RE-DIRECT, THREE C is developing and implementing high-quality product lines for this purpose, including for water and wastewater treatment, animal husbandry, agriculture and energy generation.

The transdisciplinary research and development project with 13 partners from BE, DE, FR, IR, NL and UK will contribute to a climate-friendly and sustainable circular carbon economy in Northwest Europe. Synergies and expertise from university research institutions, public institutions, business support and regional development agencies as well as capacity building, investment and marketing experts will be used. A central quality laboratory guarantees a consistently high quality of plant and activated carbon products and establishes control mechanisms for the regionally developed products.