During the 1990s, research at the University of Hawaii (UH) led to the discovery of the patented Flash Carbonization™ process that quickly and efficiently produces biocarbon (i.e., charcoal) from biomass. For an overview on this patented process and biocarbons in general, click here . The Flash Carbonization™ process involves the ignition of a flash fire at elevated pressure in a packed bed of biomass. Because of the elevated pressure, the fire quickly spreads through the bed, triggering the transformation of biomass to biocarbon. Fixed-carbon yields of up to 100% of the theoretical limit have been achieved in as little as 20 or 30 minutes. (By contrast, conventional charcoal-making technologies typically produce charcoal with carbon yields of much less than 80% of the theoretical limit and take from 8 hours to several days.) Feedstocks have included woods (e.g., leucaena, eucalyptus, and oak), agricultural byproducts (e.g., macadamia nutshells, corncobs, and pineapple chop), moist green wastes (e.g., wood sawdust and Christmas tree chips), various invasive species (e.g., strawberry guava), and synthetic materials (e.g., shredded automobile tires).
We are now testing a commercial-scale, stand-alone (off-the-grid) Flash Carbonization™ Demonstration Reactor ("Demo Reactor") -- see the photo to the right. The first successful test of the Demo Reactor occurred on 24 November 2006. A canister full of corn cobs was carbonized in less than 30 min. This test proved that the Flash Carbonization™ process can be scaled-up to commercial size
The UH Flash Carbonization™ technology is protected by U.S. Patent No. 6,790,317 and U.S. Serial No. 12/679,635. UH has applied for patents on the Flash Carbonization™ process in many other countries. Some of these patents have been granted, and others are pending. The first license was signed in 2003. Kingsford obtained a limited license in 2007. Licenses to practice the Flash Carbonization™ process in the State of Hawaii and many other states are now available.
HNEI employs the UH Flash Carbonization™ Demonstration reactor as a showcase facility to both display its capabilities and to refine its operation as a benefit to licensee(s) of the UH patents. All patent licensing activity is handled by the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development  (OTTED).
Based on prior experience, a potential licensee should take the following steps to develop a relationship with HNEI and OTTED.
- Contact Professor Michael J. Antal, Jr. and provide information on the proposed region for practice of the technology, the proposed feedstock, etc. The potential licensee should have the ambition and the ability to produce and market at least 10,000 tons per year of charcoal (not necessarily at a single location). Also, the potential licensee should have significant engineering expertise.
- Test the proposed feedstock's carbonization behavior. This test requires 10 kg of feedstock and costs $3,000. The charcoal will be returned to the client for evaluation. Based on our experience with the construction of the Demo Reactor, we will also provide the client a rough estimate of the capital and operating costs associated with the client’s business plan. HNEI does not take any license inquiry seriously until after this test has been completed.
- Visit Professor Antal and OTTED personnel to discuss license terms. In general these terms include a license agreement with UH to practice the patented technology, a separate know-how license agreement with Prof. Antal, and a research agreement with UH that provides for training in UH facilities.
Radical improvements to the Flash CarbonizationTM process are now being studied within the R3Lab. New patent applications and commercial activity are anticipated in 2014.