Carbogenics is an Edinburgh start-up and the creator of CreChar, an additive that boosts the efficiency of the anaerobic digestion (AD) process during the production of biogas. Founded in 2016 by scientists Dr Jan Mumme and Franziska Srocke, the pair were keen to find a practical application for their research, conducted at the University of Edinburgh, and to play a part in the emerging low-carbon economy in Scotland.
During their research, the scientists discovered that the pyrolysis – decomposition through heating at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen – of waste paper products such as cups, cartons and paper crumble produces a material that is ideal for supporting microbial activity in bioprocesses.
At present, they explain that the efficiency of the AD process is restricted by high concentrations of inhibitors such as ammonia or sulphur or a lack of essential nutrients. This is because many operators rely on chemical additives to improve the AD process and increase biogas yields.
Carbogenics’ product CreChar is a carbon-rich solid which, when added to the AD process, increases plant efficiency and biogas production by an impressive 15%. Overall, CreChar enables significant carbon savings from the rise in biogas production, which in turn leads to the increased substitution of natural gas, a fossil fuel.
There are also the environmental benefits of reducing the amount of paper-based waste being sent to landfill or incineration. CreChar also improves the quality of the digestate, increasing its value as a plant fertiliser and enabling long-term carbon storage in soil.
Carbogenics’ intellectual property lies in the specific mix of waste feedstock and how the pyrolysis process is controlled to generate an optimal product for biogas enhancement.
In March 2018, Mumme and Srocke were named as one of three regional winners of the Shell Springboard programme at its regional final in Aberdeen. They were awarded £40,000 of no-strings funding. They now also have the chance to compete at the national finals in May, where they could win an extra £110,000 and further business support.
The pair say they are delighted to have progressed to the finals.
Mumme explains: “One of our principal challenges so far has been to demonstrate the feasibility of commercial-scale production of CreChar. The Shell Springboard funding will allow us to invest more in production facilities. We are looking forward to the final, where we will hopefully be able to take our business to the next stage.”
A helping hand for the low-carbon economy
The Shell Springboard awards are designed to support young low-carbon businesses to help the UK move to a low-carbon economy. They are now in their 13th year and have awarded £4m to almost 100 low-carbon entrepreneurs. More than 80% of winners are still in operation five years after starting up, compared with a national average of around 45%.
The awards are open to any UK-registered SME with the proviso that the application meets three core criteria: that the business idea will reduce carbon emissions, is commercially viable and demonstrates one or more innovative elements.
This year, successful applicants were shortlisted for two regional finals and met judging panels in Aberdeen and Cambridge in March. At each event, three regional winners were awarded funding of £40,000 each. These six regional winners go forward to the national final, to be held in London on 10 May. At this event, one business will be crowned the national winner of Shell Springboard 2018. The winner will receive a further £110,000, taking their total prize to £150,000.
Alongside funding, finalists receive essential business advice, from growing their business and building their brand through to guidance on getting the most out of other Shell initiatives such as the Access to Finance Navigator, which helps low-carbon entrepreneurs to identify and access new sources of funding.
Gareth Thistleton, Shell’s head of UK social investment, said: “The quality of the entrepreneurs coming through Shell Springboard makes me really excited about the future of the UK’s low-carbon energy sector. Shell is thrilled to be helping these young businesses and I can’t wait to see what their future holds.”
Previous waste-related winners of the awards include Celtic Renewables in 2012, which produces biofuels from the residues of the whisky industry, and Biobean in 2014, which turns waste coffee grounds into biofuels products such as biomass pellets and biodiesel.