Harvesting value from agricultural waste
Takachar is focused on dramatically increasing the amount of waste biomass economically transformed into marketable products around the world. Using a novel concept called oxygen-lean torrefaction, we are simplifying reactor design to enable small-scale, portable, and decentralized biomass conversion that cuts transportation cost by about 30 percent.
Kevin Kung earned his Ph.D. from MIT, focusing on biofuels and renewable energy, and specializes in biomass and energy conversion systems, engineering design in resource-constrained settings, and waste industry innovation. In 2012, by cofounded a company that turns agricultural residues into carbon-negative fertilizer. This led him to recognize the technical challenges in this sector, and he continued to work on the biomass technology, which was a part of his Ph.D. research and is under commercialization now. He also cofounded the MIT Waste Alliance, which convenes students, researchers, industrial practitioners, and policymakers around waste-sector issues. Kung received his A.B. in physics from Princeton University, M.S. in physics from University of Cambridge, and S.M. in biological engineering from MIT.
Most efforts to harness biomass as renewable energy have met with difficulties because biomass is bulky, moist, and disperse, which makes transportation costly. Torrefaction, a thermochemical treatment that upgrades waste biomass into fuel, provides one economically viable path for salvaging the material.
However, most torrefaction reactors today are too large and costly for decentralized deployment. Other biomass treatment processes, such as gasification, and biofuel production also require centralized infrastructure. Takachar’s solution can serve those systems by pretreating biomass, making its transport more economically viable.
Takachar aims to develop small-scale, low-cost, portable reactor units that turn small pockets of biomass in remote areas into commercially viable products, such as solid fuel, fertilizer, or other chemical precursors. The Takachar reactor can be towed by tractors, hauled in trailers or within shipping containers.
Takachar's reactor is based a new chemical variant called oxygen-lean torrefaction, explored during Kung's doctoral research, supported by the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, Kung and his colleagues developed and validated a new class of simplified continuous biomass torrefaction reactors that can operate at steady state and can be tuned to produce products of different qualities desired by different end users.
Takachar’s target market is small-scale agriculture, where today post-harvest biomass is often simply burned in the open-air, creating air pollution while netting no value. Its process can be a profitable way to make economic use of this biomass, while reducing air pollution.
Potential for Impact
If successful, Takachar will introduce a new market for decentralized biomass that is worth around $10 billion per year, globally. Burning agricultural waste accounts for 18 percent of annual global CO2 equivalent emissions. By displacing that practice where it is commonplace, such as in Brazil or Indonesia, Takachar could eliminate up to 100 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year.
Takachar is Looking for...
- Technical collaborators
- Cofounder with expertise in business and operations
- Product design and user experience engineer
kkung [at] mit [dot] edu
Header image by Indi Samarajiva