Students at the University of Washington have teamed up on a startup that promises to turn slash piles of forest refuse into biochar, a crumbly charcoal-like product for farmers that helps their soil hold water and nutrients. Biochar is not technically a fertilizer, but often improves yield for farmers.
“Wine growers, organic farmers and gardeners of all sorts are part of the market we are targeting,” said Jenny Knoth, a doctoral student in forest resources in the UW College of the Environment. The National Science Foundation chose the project, and Knoth as key student leader, for their Innovation Corp announced Oct. 6.
After a stand of trees is harvested, the stumps and other woody debris not useful for the sawmill are collected into what are called “slash” piles, and typically burned in place because hauling the tons of material is not practical. It takes money and staff to burn the piles, and the burning produces more smoke than the new method designed by Knoth and her collaborators.