Carbyne & SteamBio

Monday 18th April 2016
Steambio players.

Created inside a thermos tube of Graphene, Carbyne is said to be stronger than both graphene and diamond, and twice as stiff as the stiffest known materials. Simultaneously sustainable industry carbon, emerging from research at University of Vienna, Austria, discovers new super material Steambio, a sustainable industry carbon. Glasgow will be hosting a Meeting & Workshop on Steambio from 28-29th June.

Graphene,  first isolated in 2004 by two Noble Prize winning researchers at The University of Manchester, is best known as the fullerene consisting of bonded carbon atoms in sheet form one atom thick. It’s unique electrical, electronic and structural character make this lightweight, thin, flexible, durable material ideal for use in electronic circuits, solar cells, sensors and other electronic devices.

Since first isolated, researchers have identified and characterised Graphene’s electronic abilities, including the bipolar transistor effect, ballistic transport of charges, and large quantum oscillation effects, to name a few.  Now synthetic carbyne  (right) is twice as stiff as graphene and 40 times stiffer than diamond. (Image: Max Planck Institute. Credit: Lei Shi, University of Vienna)

STEAMBIO: Sustainable industry carbon
Steambio is a collaboration of eleven partners from industry and academia with a common purpose:  to create a viable business based on superheated steam torrefaction of forestry and agricultural residues.

Footnote Glasgow (UK) : 28th – 29th June 2016
Month - 18 Meeting and Workshop
If you want to meet any of the consortium,
please contact Jenny Bräutigam to make arrangements.

As  the majority of fossil carbon in Europe is now imported  there are concerns relating to supply security. To create a  secure and sustainable future, it is needful to use carbon from nature, or  “biocarbon” and use it to create biodegradable bioplastics, other biochemicals and renewable energy generation when required. However, biocarbon must be sustainable with functionalities, availability and costs comparable to the fossil carbon it displaces.

Biocarbon is an abundant natural resource, but not always available in an appropriate condition or location. The infrastructure associated with fossil carbon, developed over years, based around centralised refineries. Future biorefineries cannot ignore  existing infrastructures. For biocarbon to be established it must be able to be stabilised, stored, transported and used with cost and functional equivalence to fossil carbon. This needs to be achieved without expensive plant upgrades.

How big is the market?  The global chemical industry is worth about $3 trillion, biochemical production amounts to approximately $100 billion, a relatively small but growing proportion. Biochemicals are mainly 1st generation and  compete with available food supplies, either directly using corn starch or sugar or indirectly through land use. This is unsustainable in the long term and  led to research and investment into 2nd and 3rd generation sources.  The bioenergy market is more developed and expanding. Since 2008 EU wood pellet use for energy generation has increased from 2.5 MTOE (million tons of oil equivalence) and projected to be 20/32 MTOE or approximately 50 to 80 million metric tons, by 2020 (source: European Biomass Association). As the demand for bioenergy has grown, issues have arisen which will also impact on 2nd generation biochemicals.

Existing forestry resources in Europe are insufficient to meet market demand, resulting in significant imports from North America and other regions with competition for supplies emerging from East Asia and elsewhere. Concerns have been expressed on imported supplies, of ecological stresses where grown, on the environmental impact of shipments around the globe and competition from other users.

There are abundant biomass resources across Europe that are not currently being used to meet this supply gap. For instance, it had been estimated that there are potentially 100 Mtoe of agricultural residues alone. However, these residues are not in a form that can be readily collated and is usable by a large scale bioeconomy. There is a need to be able to cost-effectively collate and present this material in a form that can be used.


Torrefaction is a superheated steam thermal conditioning process that makes biomass water resistant, with higher calorific values,  easier to store and transport, more suited to bioenergy (and biochemical) use than raw biomass. Developed by many teams over years it has yet to fulfil its commercial potential. Superheated steam processing is an energy efficient means of heat transfer.

Deloped by the German Fraunhofer IGB (Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology) into a continuous industrial drying process that can recover valuable volatiles from the condensate stream. On a pilot scale the process has been used at higher temperatures for torrefaction of assorted biomass material. Feasibility studies show that it has potential to stabilise a variety of forestry and agricultural residues in an economically viable form.



A new Open Access launch from Cambridge

 The next step involves taking this work to market. To make this happen, financial support was approved by the EU Horizon 2020 programme for the project SteamBio. Steambio is a collaboration of eleven partners from industry and academia with a common purpose: to create a viable business based on superheated steam torrefaction of forestry and agricultural residues. It will demonstrate economic viability in different rural locations recovery of usable biocarbon from indigenous forestry and farming residues in tonnage quantities.

In SteamBio this torrefied biocarbon will be demonstrated as a coal replacement for an industrial lime kiln, and as a carbon source in pilot scale biorefineries.  Recovered condensate from the superheated steam process has already been shown to contain commercially relevant quantities of biochemicals, additional to the torrefied biocarbon mass, that can be used as a biofuel and in biochemicals.  SteamBio has already selected six different reference materials that are abundant and available from European forestry and farming operations. A demonstration unit with a throughput of 500kg/hour is currently under design and construction and will be deployed at different rural locations by January 2017.




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