Podcast Preview with Andrew White, CHAR Technologies

Biomass Magazine’s final guest of its inaugural podcast season was Andrew White, CEO of CHAR Technologies.
By Anna Simet | January 19, 2023

Biomass Magazine’s final guest of its inaugural podcast season was Andrew White, CEO of CHAR Technologies. He describes the company as the result of “a eureka moment in the lab.” White has two master’s degrees, won the IBK Capital Ivey Business Plan Competition, was named the OBBA’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and he led CHAR to be named one the CIX Top 20 Most Innovative Public Companies.

BMM: What’s the background of CHAR Technologies? What is your company all about?

White: High-temperature pyrolysis is inherently what we’re all about, which is heating material up in the absence of oxygen, at high temperatures—800 degrees Celsius, so about 1,500 or 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit—creating biochar and renewable gases … we’re able to capture things like green hydrogen or renewable natural gas (RNG) from the process. The company was founded based on research I was doing at University of Toronto when I was finishing my master’s in chemical engineering back in 2010.

I wrote my thesis on converting a very specific feedstock—digestate, the compost that comes out of an anaerobic digester—into activated carbon, and then cleaning the biogas that comes out of that digester, so a real focus on the circularity of using this low-value residual to make a higher-value product ... We launched the company in 2011, got our first round of funding in 2013, and by 2018, we had built our first facility in London, Ontario, taking digestate and creating an activated carbon we called SulfaCHAR. Around the same time, we started looking at other feedstocks like wood residuals, pallets, wood chips, bark and saw dust, different nut shells, miscanthus—a whole host of different fun materials, and ran them through the system to find out what kind of biocarbons and gasses we could make. So, our plant always makes those two outputs—gasses and biocarbons. Generally, we categorize the biocarbons as biocoal, so for us that means a metallurgical coal replacement that is very fine quality and high-spec …we’re generally focused on steelmaking replacing fossil coal … [and] the cork market has become quite an attractive area for biocarbon production.

BMM: Recently, the government of Canada invested $1.5 million to support your Therold, Ontario, RNG and biocarbon project. What are the details? Is it under construction yet?

White: It is, and we’ve actually hit a reasonably major milestone in phase one of the project, which is moving our existing facility from London to Thorold [Ontario], so that we’re in one location. We had fantastic hosts at the site we were on, but we were in a relatively tight envelope—we had a 2,500-square-foot building with a little space around it. We’re now in a 17,000-square-foot building and have about 50,000 square feet of space around it. It’s actually pretty cool, a former pulp and paper plant, and we’re going into biomass processing—making biocarbon and renewable gasses instead of paper—but we’re kind of reusing this facility that has always processed wood in one way or another. When our plant moved, the capacity of the system was around 1,000 to 2,000 tons a year of biocarbon. That’s enough for trials, but we really want more production, so phase two of the project will be expanding our capacity, building larger processing kilns—that’s what we call our pyrolysis units—and getting our production up to about 12,000 tons a year of biocarbon. Simultaneously, we’ll be adding the RNG component, and once fully commissioned, we expect the plant to be producing about 5,000 gigajoules a year of RNG.

Listen to the rest of the podcast:

Don't Miss an Episode:
Biomass Magazine’s recent podcasts:

S01 E12 Surveying Momentum
in the Biomass Economy
Featuring Ben Hubbard, CEO of Nexus PMG

S02 E1 Josiah Hunt, Pacific Biochar

S02 E2 Cody Myers, Green Rock
Energy Partners   

Interested in being a guest?
Contact Danielle Piekarski at [email protected]