Taupo-based Activated Carbon NZ is the ultimate example of an environmental and business
The company makes a range of products right here in New Zealand that use waste sawdust
from sawmills to create activated carbon, a product that is used in a remarkably wide range
of applications, including removing toxic gases in industrial waste and effluent, to purify
water, and in the supplement, cosmetic, and food and beverage sectors. Activated carbon is
even used in candle manufacturing! In addition activated carbon conducts electricity and
insulates heat. There are even experiments underway to look into its use as a binder with
Activated Carbon NZ Ltd are the only New Zealand manufacturer of activated carbon. Being
able to supply domestically is proving to be extremely important as supply chains for
activated carbon from overseas continue to be severely disrupted due to COVID-19.
In the past, New Zealand businesses have typically sourced their activated carbon from
China or Australia, but often from much less environmentally friendly source material such
as coal or coconut shells.
“We know that businesses are looking for high-quality activated carbon that is more
sustainable and we’re able to provide that for them with no supply issues,” says Activated
Carbon NZ Director Grant Hughes. “We’re able to provide activated carbon as a fine
powder, granulated, or in capsule form wholesale for industrial customers or for everyday
consumers via our online shop.”
Having worked in the farming sector for most of his life, Grant then moved into providing
short-term financing solutions, which is how he came across the Activated Carbon business.
He immediately saw its potential and worked to put the factory together that would form
the heart of their business.
“We imported a piece of kit from China that theoretically worked but didn’t in reality. I
spent the next couple of years with a grinder and welder and with the help of some really
talented locals we developed the plant we needed to create the high quality activated
Activated carbon cleanses through adsorption or ionic exchange. It is made by eliminating
the organic volatiles from carbon-rich organic materials, leaving just the carbon pore
structure and increasing the surface area. This means that one teaspoon of activated carbon
has more surface area than a football field. The pores and microstructure are able to attract
toxins and chemicals, which is why activated carbon works so well as a purifier. In general, the greater the surface area of the activated carbon the higher the quality. Commercially
produced activated carbon typically falls within a range of 300m 2 to 900m 2 per gram.
“A lot of the activated carbon coming from China is at the low end of this range however we
are able to average 900-1200m 2 per gram of activated carbon, sometimes as high as
1500m 2 .
“We are passionate about combating environmental pollution,” says Grant. “Creating a
business that we believe is carbon positive is very important to us. We even supply the
wood vinegar that is the byproduct of our manufacturing process for use in organic farming.
“COVID has given us the opportunity to highlight our sustainable New Zealand-made
activated carbon to businesses that might not otherwise have considered whether or not
there are better options for them right on their doorstep.
“We have a huge carbon resource here in New Zealand. We don’t need to dig up our
national parks or mine our seabed to get to this resource, it’s all around us. We still have
poor utilisation in our plantation forests and there is still a lot of waste. Pine trees continue
to be planted but byproducts of timber production, such as sawdust, are currently being
thrown away or getting chucked into a hole to rot. Meanwhile, there is a domestic and
global market for activated carbon that is undergoing significant growth, and we have the
ability to make and supply a really good product for that market.
“Rather than choosing activated carbon that’s produced from unsustainable sources that’s
been dumped in the New Zealand market for less than it costs to ship it here, we need
businesses in New Zealand to make a choice that’s better for our environment and is a
higher quality product that will achieve better results for them.”