A team of UW researchers recently developed a new method of recycling wood waste, utilizing the technology as the basis for a company. The startup, entitled Carbon Cultures, generates charcoal from recycling wood waste and sells it to farmers, gardeners, or any other customer looking to improve their soil.
“We needed to get some value from the forest and thought of wood waste,” said Jenny Knoth, CEO of Carbon Cultures and Ph.D. candidate in environmental and forest sciences. “So why not do the disposal on-site?”
The charcoal, called biochar, is created by heating wood or other types of biomass at elevated temperatures in a low-oxygen environment, to prevent combustion. Its rich chemical content improves nutrient retention in soil, captures water, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, among other benefits.
“Biochar is considered new because we’re unfamiliar with it,” Knoth said. “Its benefits are still being investigated, but it adds water to soil and fixes carbon.”
After logging or clearing a forest, the quality lumber is shipped to lumber mills, while a bunch of debris is left behind — heaps of knotty branches, stubborn stumps, twigs, and diseased or damaged wood. Employing this castoff wood for something useful could increase recycling efficiency as well as generate energy or soil additives.