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How chocolate's byproduct fights climate change?

In a world faced with the urgent need to address climate change, it may come as a surprise that chocolate, a treasured treat for millions

By Ground Report
New Update
How chocolate's byproduct fights climate change?

In a world faced with the urgent need to address climate change, it may come as a surprise that chocolate, a treasured treat for millions of people around the world, can play a role in mitigating its effects. Recent scientific research and innovative approaches in the cocoa industry have revealed the potential for chocolate to contribute to sustainability efforts.

In Hamburg, Germany, a red brick factory is using an innovative process to turn cocoa bean shells into biochar, a black powder with immense potential to counter climate change. Biochar is produced by heating cocoa shells in an oxygen-free environment to high temperatures, effectively locking out greenhouse gases.

The versatile substance can be used as a fertilizer or as an ingredient in the production of ecological concrete. While the biochar industry is still in its early stages, experts believe it offers a novel approach to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Expanding its use presents challenges, but with the ability to capture significant amounts of CO2, biochar holds great promise in the fight against climate change.

Chocolate production is intrinsically linked to climate change. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, is grown in tropical regions that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall patterns, and an increase in pests and diseases pose significant challenges for cocoa farmers. This section highlights the climate risks associated with cocoa farming and the importance of addressing them.

"We are seeing a reversal of the carbon cycle," Peik Stenlund, CEO of Circular Carbon, said during an interview with AFP at the Hamburg biochar factory. Situated as one of the largest plants in Europe, it receives used cocoa shells through a network of gray pipes from a nearby chocolate factory.

The process involves biochar, which effectively traps the CO2 present in cocoa shells, presenting a potential solution applicable to other plant materials. If cocoa shells were simply disposed of in a conventional way, the carbon within the unused by-product would break down and be released into the atmosphere.

However, by using biochar, carbon is stored safely for long periods, as confirmed by David Houben, an environmental scientist at the UniLaSalle Institute in France. Houben explained that one ton of biochar, also known as biochar, can effectively sequester the equivalent of 2.5 to three tons of CO2, offering a promising method for carbon capture.

Sustainable cocoa farming practices

The use of biochar dates back to the indigenous communities of the Americas, who used it as a natural fertilizer. It was later rediscovered by 20th-century scientists studying the highly fertile soils of the Amazon basin. The unique sponge-like structure of biochar enhances crop growth by increasing the water and nutrient uptake capacity of the soil.

To combat climate change, the cocoa industry has been adopting sustainable farming practices. This section delves into various approaches, such as agroforestry, shade-grown cocoa, and carbon sequestration through tree planting. These techniques not only improve the resilience of cocoa farms to climate change, but also promote biodiversity conservation and provide economic benefits to farmers.

Beyond the farm gate, chocolate manufacturers are increasingly focusing on reducing their carbon footprint in processing operations. Innovative technologies, the integration of renewable energy and efficiency improvements in cocoa processing can contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This section explores the efforts made by the chocolate industry to minimize its environmental impact during manufacturing.

Carbon cost

The pyrolysis production process also generates a certain amount of biogas, which is sold to the neighbouring factory. From 10,000 tons of cocoa shells, the plant produces 3,500 tons of biochar and up to 20-megawatt hours of gas per year.

However, scaling up this production method to meet the level predicted by the IPCC remains a challenge. "For the system to store more carbon than it produces, it needs to be implemented locally, with minimal or no transport. Otherwise, it loses its purpose," Houben explained.

Also, not all types of soil are suitable for biochar. It is most effective in tropical climates, and the availability of raw materials for its production is limited in some regions, according to Houben.

The cost of biochar can also be a deterrent, with prices around 1,000 euros ($1,070) per tonne making it inaffordable for many farmers.

To maximize the potential of this powerful black powder, Houben stressed the need to explore alternative applications. One such possibility is found in the construction industry, where biochar could be used in the production of eco-friendly concrete known as "green" concrete.

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