LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. -- The devastating impacts of the bark beetle infestation are still being felt. The forest service estimates Colorado still has four to five million acres of beetle kill in the Rockies. But, there’s a breakthrough technology turning that dead wood into new life.
Just west of I-25 near Berthoud is a relatively new company called Biochar Now.
"We get wood from everywhere," said owner and CEO James Gaspard.
You may have recently noticed giant stacks of logs piling up in that area.
“Dead trees,” Gaspard said. “But what we see is carbon."
This is hardly your average logging operation.
"You'll see holes in every one of these trees,” Gaspard said. “This is all beetle kill."
Biochar is recycling beetle kill trees that would otherwise be rotting in the forest, creating a dangerous wildfire hazard or worse – end up in a landfill.
"If they pull it out of the forest, then if a fire does start - it burns cooler because there’s less fuel and it doesn't sterilize the soil," Gaspard said.
And it's what they're converting the dead timber into that's so unique. Biochar is grinding the trees down, essentially with a giant wood chipper, then piling up the shredded wood that eventually ends up in patented kilns.
"Each kiln uses 11 cubic yards of shredded wood,” Gaspard said. “We heat it up - three times the temperature of fire - in an oxygen-free environment. In a vacuum so that it doesn't turn to ash."
What's left is an organic bio-fertilizer.
"We beat it down to different sizes for different markets," Gaspard said.
A compound that's being used by specialty farmers to grow hemp and other products, and by lawn care companies instead of conventional fertilizers.
"It binds up nutrients it comes into contact with," Gaspard said. "We can cut water use on golf courses by half."
The process of charring the wood emits hardly any pollution itself.
"We could have hundreds of these kilns on our site and not exceed our emissions in a year," Gaspard said.
And the resource is virtually unlimited. Biochar will use about 1,000 acres of dead trees a year.
"If you go up to British Columbia, they're looking at 40-50 million dead acres," Gaspard said. “California has an issue with dead trees, too.”
Investors include the former owner of Johnson's Corner, Chauncey Taylor.
"It's not just a carbon neutral product, it's carbon negative," Taylor said. “Heal the Earth, feed the Earth."
Gaspard said at the moment, Biochar Now is the only biochar company in the U.S. approved by the EPA.