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Students Start Company to Commercialize Biochar Process

Slash pile (

Slash pile (

Students at University of Washington in Seattle are taking to market a new process to turn forestry waste into biochar, a charcoal-like substance that boosts agricultural yields. Their company, C6 Systems, is also a recipient of one of the first Innovation Corps grants from National Science Foundation.

Jenny Knoth, a UW doctoral student in forest resources, and colleagues at C6 System developed a process to convert forestry waste called slash piles into biochar. Slash piles (pictured left) consist of stumps and other woody debris not used by saw or paper mills, and left in piles that normally get burned after timber operations, but before the timber can be sold.

Knoth and her colleagues developed a process for reducing slash piles in biochar, a crumbly substance related to charcoal. Biochar is an all-natural soil additive, sought after by organic farmers, landscapers, and gardeners that can sell for $1,500 a ton.

The C6 Systems process seals off the slash pile with a special blanket and uses pyrolysis — a form of low-oxygen degeneration — to convert the debris into char. Small slash piles take about a day to convert; larger piles take longer. The method is low in cost and simple enough for timber crews to implement quickly.

NSF chose the C6 Systems project as one of 21 in the U.S. for a $50,000 grant to foster and support the team of five students — Knoth, Kenneth Faires, Derek Churchill, Nate Dorin and John Tovey III — who have been working on a business plan for the company. Chemical engineering professor Dan Schwartz and Jeffry Canin, a former entrepreneur in residence at the UW’s Center for Commercialization, have been mentoring the students.

Read more: NSF Unveils Innovation Corps to Extend Innovation Impact

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