Why Choose Cement When You Can Have Pyrochar?

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Freie Universität Berlin spin-off wins a first prize in the Berlin-Brandenburg Business Plan Competition

In the first round of the Berlin-Brandenburg Business Plan Competition (Businessplan-Wettbewerb, BPW), the start-up company Carbon Instead, a Freie Universität Berlin spin-off, has won one of two first prizes in the -Plan- category. Start-up founders Julia Roth and Joanna Fatorelli were selected for their development of a cleaning technique that allows the industry to apply an environmentally friendly additive, -pyrochar,- that can partially replace cement in construction work. The use of the material can considerably reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Due to its high porosity and water-holding capacity, pyrochar also demonstrates impressive technical properties.

The construction industry is currently struggling to adapt to environmental protection requirements coupled with problems in accessing raw materials. Cement is especially notorious for the huge amount of energy it requires at the manufacturing stage and the resulting high greenhouse gas emissions. Research conducted at Carbon Instead is focused on a more sustainable and greener construction sector. It is based on biogenetic waste such as garden waste, sewage sludge, or discarded products from food production - waste sources that are predominantly incinerated and end up mostly in landfills. To produce pyrochar, these waste products are heated under reduced oxygen conditions. In this process, carbon is converted to pyrochar with by-products of biogas and biodegradable oil.

The start-up team is working with Freie Universität Berlin and the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Holzkirchen to find out how pyrochar can be purified and optimized for use in the construction industry. The aim is the long-term binding of environmentally damaging carbon in the form of construction materials and limiting the release of harmful substances into the atmosphere. As a partial substitute for traditional building materials, pyrochar also offers one other significant advantage. The cement manufacturing process is responsible for around 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the global aviation industry before the coronavirus pandemic. By contrast, pyrochar is not just climate-neutral but actually helps prevent carbon from being released into the atmosphere and sequesters it, making it a negative emissions technology.

The company Carbon Instead is a spin-off of Freie Universität Berlin and has been supported since October 2020 by the -Berlin Startup Scholarship- program, funded by the Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises and the European Social Fund.

After graduating in business administration, founder Julia Roth spent seven years working for Siemens and for sustainable startups. At Carbon Instead, she is in charge of strategy, networking, and business development. Co-founder and chemistry graduate Joanna Fatorelli has a master’s degree in international cooperation and previously worked as a project manager in different areas. Her current focus is on product development at Carbon Instead.


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