Why Microsoft and Shopify are betting on biochar

A trio of tech companies – Microsoft, Shopify and Stripe – have openly announced that they are investing in carbon storage and atmospheric conservation projects.

Microsoft posted a 33-page whitepaper in January, Shopify just released a voluminous tutorials document to help other companies start their own Global Assessment process. Among the measures spelled out in the document also appears – planting, restoration and protection of forests so that trees can accumulate more carbon. An important point was voiced as follows: “Using organic material to create renewable energy sources and finding creative ways to store and conserve carbon ”. All paths to achieving this goal in the document place an important emphasis on the production and use of biochar.

All three have a lot to learn from the appraisal and contracting process. I also studied the wide range of methods supported by each – all supported by several companies, including bioenergy firm Charm Industrial and direct air purifier pioneer Climeworks. But the materials highlight just how active entrepreneurial activity is among startups to remove carbon. They also got me thinking about a method that is starting to get more and more attention, Biochar.

Officially biochar is charcoal (see in more detail What is biochar). Technically speaking, it is produced by decomposing biomass – agricultural or forest waste – at high temperatures and in the absence of oxygen. The concept is not new: farmers have been using biochar for years to improve soil health (see in more detail How Biochar Benefits Soil). As of 2019, the US market was relatively small at just under $ 100 million per year. But revenue is expected to grow between 2020 and 2027 at an average annual growth rate of about 19%.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that both Shopify and Microsoft support biochar in their carbon removal portfolios – albeit only to a limited extent at the moment. Both are supporting projects of the Australian firm Echo2, which uses urban green waste, forest plantation residues and wood waste from crops and construction as raw materials; and the Finnish company Carbofex, which produces biochar using a combined heat and power system and converts it into water filtration and horticultural materials. Microsoft is also investing in the project of the German company Carbon Cycle, while Shopify is also working with Ecoera from Sweden.

Stacey Kauk, director of the Shopify Sustainability Foundation, described biochar as a versatile method for generating carbon because it can be used for purposes such as improving soil conditions or filtering wastewater with the effect of generating clean energy as a byproduct of a manufacturing process. “Having multiple streams of revenue allows biochar to be one of the cheapest engineered carbon removal solutions (around $ 100 per tonne). The bottom line is that carbon dioxide, coming from the atmosphere, is stored in multiple pores of biochar for a long time (over 100 years), ”she writes by e-mail.

While individual projects may not have “gigaton potential,” the sector as a whole can make a big contribution, Kauk suggested. Echo2, for example, claims to remove 2.88 metric tons of CO2 per metric ton of product and retains that effect for centuries. (Microsoft has a 600-year contract.)

Marianne Tikannen, co-founder of the carbon market Puro.earth, recently acquired by Nasdaq, said the persistence of biochar projects – “hundreds of years if done right” – is just one part of their appeal.

Depending on where the project is located – potentially almost anywhere – it can have a number of co-benefits. “Context matters,” Tikkanen told us. For example, one of the biochar developers in its market, Oregon Biochar, advertises its role in forest management by helping to clean up materials that can fuel wildfires. “Sometimes there is a need to clean up or dispose of biomass,” she said. Other benefits include improving water quality or soil health, where biochar is used as a filter.

Of course, there are issues that still need to be resolved. One of the most important gating factors is that creating the material can require a lot of thermal energy in the range of 300 to 1000 degrees Celsius depending on the process, and also a very controlled environment (preferably zero oxygen). And, as mentioned earlier, there are not so many existing capacities, although trends are changing and the world market is adjusting to consumer demands and modern needs. For example, Suez Energy in early June announced plans to industrialize the manufacturing approach of the Canadian company Airex Energy, which recycles sawmill by-products, including wood flour, biochar and biococ.


It is worth paying special attention to the GreenPower carbonization furnace, which are designed in such a way that they meet all the specified requirements. Using wood pyrolysis machine GreenPower, you get high quality charcoal or biochar with a given amount of carbon:

– the raw material is carbonized at high temperatures (from 100-150 ° C when drying the raw material, 250-450 ° C at the pyrolysis stage, and higher up to 800 ° C, if it is necessary to obtain charcoal with a given amount of carbon);

– the carbonization process takes place without oxygen access;

– waste from agriculture and wood processing is used as raw material, including wood chips, walnut shells and fruit seeds, and briquettes and pellets from 5 to 30 mm in size are also subject to carbonization;

– the process is 100% environmentally friendly, only water vapor and carbon dioxide are released. All harmful oxides, resins, etc. are burned in the afterburner;

– obtaining excess heat energy, which can be used for various technological processes.