Quebec’s new biochar plant set to be largest in North America

Biochar can sequester CO2 in soils or other materials for hundreds of years. Photo Credit: SUEZ

Canada’s first and largest industrial-scale biochar plant — an $80-million project capable of eventually sequestering 75,000 tonnes of carbon per year — is set to be built in Port-Cartier, Quebec, in 2024.

The decarbonization initiative by Canadian cleantech startup Airex Energy Inc., lumber producer Groupe Rémabec and Paris-based waste treatment group Suez SA, will operate under the name CARBONITY. Located about 850 kilometres northeast of Montreal, the plant will have an initial biochar production capacity of 10,000 tonnes per year. By 2026, annual plant production capacity will triple, making it the largest biochar facility in North America. 

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry wastes in the absence of oxygen. Recognized by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of five negative-emission solutions to curb global warming, biochar can be used as a soil amendment that offers increased nutrient retention and optimized soil aeration and drainage. Its properties allow it to contribute to soil regeneration, limit the use of fertilizers, and sustain water resources, said project officials. 

Biochar can sequester CO2 in soils or other materials for hundreds of years. The project’s certified carbon credits will be sold on the voluntary market by First Climate.

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“By transforming forest and agricultural residues into carbon sinks and fertilizers, SUEZ creates value over the entire life cycle of the material,” announced Yves Rannou, chief operating officer of recycling and recovery, and executive VP of SUEZ. “SUEZ will leverage its expertise in constructing and operating industrial facilities to enable the global deployment of this groundbreaking decarbonization solution.”

In Quebec, forestry operations on public land discharge some 6.5 million tons of dry biomass each year.

The biochar project will utilize CarbonFX pyrolysis technology developed by Airex Energy that heats organic feedstocks in an oxygen-limited atmosphere.

When added to concrete or asphalt formulations, biochar brings new functionalities to the final material while helping to reduce its carbon footprint, a key issue for the construction sector. The production of biochar at high-temperature and with oxygen-free pyrolysis will generate surplus energy in the form of steam or pyrolysis oil, which can be directly reused on site.

“This project is the perfect example of the growth and decarbonization strategy advocated by the Quebec government,” explained Michel Gagnon, CEO of Airex Energy and chairman of the joint venture, in a statement. “This project brings to the forefront CarbonFX technology, an innovation proudly developed in Quebec, which is now considered a benchmark worldwide.”

This is the first biochar project resulting from the partnership between SUEZ and Airex Energy, which aims to produce 350,000 tonnes of biochar by 2035.

The project has already received funding from Quebec and the federal government. A contribution of $7.5 million comes from Natural Resources Canada through the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) program, which aims to support the competitiveness and transformation of Canada’s forest sector through targeted investments in advanced technologies and products. An additional $3 million comes through Quebec’s Regional Economic Growth through Innovation.

The Port-Cartier plant is expected to employ some 75 local workers.

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