Biochar plant developer Carbo Culture relies on Lapp Automaatio's EPIC SENSORS temperature sensors


Carbo Culture, a Finnish startup focusing on green transition technologies, has developed a research facility in Kerava to demonstrate the effectiveness of its biochar technology before commercialization. LAPP Automaatio has been involved in the story of the research facility since the planning stage, starting in the summer of 2023.

Carbo Culture is a green transition startup and project developer with its own biochar technology. In biochar facilities, wood material is processed using Carbo Culture's patented CarbolysisTM method, which produces energy and condenses into biochar, preventing carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere. By using wood in a way that doesn't burden the climate but instead absorbs carbon dioxide, a carbon sink is created.

Carbo Culture contacted LAPP Automaatio as soon as the planning of the Kerava research facility began because the biochar plant requires various temperature measurements, all of which need to be accurate.

"LAPP Automaatio provides us with practically all temperature measurement technology. They were selected as the supplier of temperature sensors quite effortlessly because their products are of high quality," says Mikko Niemelä, Chief Automation Engineer at Carbo Culture.

While Carbo Culture's research facility in Kerava is not very large for an industrial plant, it is reasonably sizable for research purposes. The company previously built a pilot plant in California, where walnut shells were used instead of wood as raw material.

"The reactor size in Kerava is about 15 cubic meters, so it's a decent-sized vessel. I would say that there are around 40 EPIC® SENSORS temperature sensors manufactured by LAPP Automaatio installed there," Niemelä says.

Domesticity streamlined cooperation

From LAPP Automaatio's perspective, the project started from scratch: where to place the sensors and what was expected from them had to be figured out. Once the plans were approved, the manufacturing of the sensors could begin.

"In such a project, it's natural that needs may change and become more precise along the way. However, the research facility serves as a kind of prototype, where we learn with the initial versions how the plans and theories work in practice," says Juha Mikkonen, Product Specialist at LAPP Automaatio.

According to Niemelä, manufacturing EPIC® SENSORS temperature sensors in Finland significantly facilitates cooperation. He wants to visit the factory to see how the devices they receive are manufactured and operate.

"Factory visits build trust towards the manufacturer, and sometimes they lead to eureka moments, and I will be able to ask for something new. For a new partner, the opportunity to familiarize oneself with the manufacturing process can be a decisive factor: if the manufacturer doesn't trust their own production line and doesn't allow the customer near it, the order might not be placed," says Niemelä.

For LAPP Automaatio, Carbo Culture is a unique customer due to its industry. From the perspective of the end product, which is the temperature sensor, the application doesn't matter much. However, 
when pioneering a new application, even thorough plans may not result in a flawless outcome on the initial try.

"Carbo Culture came to see the manufacturing of the sensors and realized with one sensor that it wasn't exactly what they wanted. Nevertheless, we were able to make the necessary changes on the fly. In another case, the sensors were changed to meet the requirements for hazardous environments," recalls Mikkonen.

"When we're pondering and planning the implementation of a new solution, it's certainly much easier to discuss it in Finnish. It's always nice to buy from a Finnish supplier if it makes economic sense," says Niemelä.

From research towards production - aiming for strong growth

Carbo Culture's biochar facility encompasses three revenue models. The biochar produced in the process can be sold, for example, as a soil conditioner and the heat to district heating networks. Additionally, the captured carbon dioxide can be sold as emission reductions. The company's ambitious goal is to build dozens of similar facilities around the world.

"The Kerava facility is the first plant where a proper automation system is in use. We now have the basic process figured out. Next, we intend to scale it to industrial and commercial levels," envisions Niemelä.
The research facility is like a practice arena where a sports team prepares for official matches. Once the basics are mastered, more daring ideas can be tried out.

"In practice, this is basic research, upon which we refine the next reactors and facilities. If a crazy idea comes up, we can try it out in the research facility, and if it works, we'll replicate it on a larger scale," muses Niemelä.

LAPP Automaatio is ready to expand its cooperation with Carbo Culture as they embark on their global journey.

"If and when they turn the biochar facility into a commercial product, we'll likely revisit certain measurements at the drawing board. Thanks to the research facility, it's easy for us to see what worked well and what needs adjustments," says Mikkonen.