ByGen co-founder and CEO Lewis Dunnigan asserts that this breakthrough, put into motion with co-founder Ben Morton, was the first conversion of its sort across the globe.
The Adelaide company is now seeking an industry partner in the plastics sector to develop the technology and offer it on the commercial market.
Dunnigan says that contaminated plastics is a problem around the world, and that the act of culling activated carbon from the plastics might be the solution.
Dunnigan and Morton are both scientists, and noted basic similarities between agricultural wastes and plastics. Agricultural waste boasts an elevated carbon content, as does plastic, so the concept came naturally to them.
Activated carbon has many industrial applications, including purifying liquids like drinking water, food and beverage processing, odour removal, contaminated soil remediation and gold processing.
It is generally created from coal, hardwood or coconut shells, and sells for approximately A$2000 a tonne.
Dunnigan says that they’ve manufactured carbon from plastics and also generated heat simultaneously, more so than with agricultural waste.
He says that heat can be an important bi-product for industries such as brick making, cement production, and industrial drying processes. A single tonne of plastic generates 3-5MW of heat, which is a sizable amount–enough that it could be morphed to electricity or exported to the grid.
ByGen is instigating a campaign to raise about A$2.5 million to construct a full-scale plant capable of manufacturing industrial quantities of activated carbon from agricultural waste.
During their PhD studies, he and Morton created a low cost, low energy means of manufacturing activated carbon and then discovered a market for it. Now they are commercialising the technology they developed.
Dunnigan says that you must manufacture it at approximately 1000 degrees using steam or harsh chemicals. He and his corporate partner felt that those energy intensive processes, employed in developing countries with non-renewable feedstocks, were not sustainable, so they conducted trials with many different Australian agricultural wastes and identified those that worked best.
Australia is a net importer of activated carbon. The global activated carbon market is growing at about 9 per cent a year, partially due to increasingly tight environmental legislation around the world.
Activated carbon has a number of applications, from water purification to soil improvement and mineral processing.
Dunnigan says that the plastics conversion method employed a similar procedure to the agricultural waste but would involve the participation of different industry partners.
He wants to cultivate a collaborative project with a partner that identifies the value in morphing waste plastics into a commodity worth $2000 a tonne. He says that the process works with mixed plastic streams, and these categories of contaminated plastics are an issue in Australia and across the globe.
Dunnigan says that this effort is part of a long-term trend toward greater sustainability—one that presents technology developed in South Australia.