Jacobi developing sustainable coconut-based activated carbon production technology

24th October 2023 By: Darren Parker - Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

Jacobi developing sustainable coconut-based activated carbon production technology

Photo by: Jacobi

Activated carbon producer Jacobi is rolling out a proprietary clean coconut charcoal production technology in India and Sri Lanka using coconut shells sourced from five different countries across South East Asia. 

The technology will use the heat generated from the process to generate steam, which, in turn, will be used to generate electricity.

The company has long used coconut shells as an essential ingredient for producing activated carbon, which is critical for gold recovery.

Currently, South Africa’s gold industry is the largest consumer of Jacobi’s coconut-based activated carbon product at about 3 000 t/y. The company distributes about 20 000 t/y globally to about 40 countries.

Coconut shell has many advantages when used as a source for activated carbon, as it has both high mechanical strength and high pore volume for better adsorption. It is also considered to be a more sustainable option because it is a greener alternative for activated carbon than coal.

Activated carbon contains carbonaceous material derived from charcoal and is produced by the pyrolysis of organic plant-based materials, such as coconut shells, wood, sugarcane bagasse, soybean hulls and nutshells.

Speaking at the Go For Gold conference, at Gold Reef City, in Johannesburg, on October 24, Jacobi global gold recovery applications manager and Asia Pacific and South Africa sales director Pierre-Eric Blanc said that supply chain and climate change pressures were motivating factors behind the development of more efficient and sustainable coconut shell processing technology to produce activated carbon product.

He said the coconut supply chain was under pressure owing to the need for a large quantity of shells and significant competition from other sectors for the resource. 

Blanc said a relatively low yield of charcoal from the shells contributed to the problem, with only about 10% of each shell being successfully converted into activated carbon using more traditional carbonisation methods. He noted that these traditional methods were also not sustainable and created a significant amount of emissions.

However, the modern clean technology being implemented by Jacobi in India has led to the company being able to achieve much higher yields approaching 100% of the shell, with far fewer emissions.

In addition to yield challenges is the limited availability of quality shells owing to stiff competition for the resource from the food industry and other industries that use coconut shell charcoal for fuel.

Moreover, supply chain challenges include seasonal harvests that might be dependent on weather conditions, with climate anomalies such as El Nino causing less certainty. Political instability throughout South East Asia is also a supply chain risk.

Blanc explained that the sourcing of quality coconut shells as a raw material for creating activated carbon currently accounts for about 70% of Jacobi’s production costs. However, by implementing the new technology to ensure better yields, the cost efficiency of the production cycle can be improved.

In line with these innovations, Jacobi is working on producing a new activated carbon product called the PicaGold G210 Titanium Grade. The principle behind this new product is to have a thorough pre-attrition to further reduce platelet content and achieve higher attrition resistance, Blanc said.

“We want to have a product that’s significantly over-performing grades currently in use,” Blanc said.

He said Jacobi had installed dedicated full-size equipment and that production-scale trials were currently taking place to confirm adequacy. Blanc added that the company intends to take the new product to market next year.

In addition, he said the company was also working on another new product called the Potato Shaped PicaGold, which is based on the principle of getting no platelets low fines generating gold grade.

Blanc explained that this product would not be a traditional pellet but would rather be a potato-shaped particle, as the name implies.

The product is being codeveloped with Japanese Osaka Gas Chemicals, which is assisting with the research and development.

The aim is to bring the Potato Shaped PicaGold product to market in 2026.