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Forest management activities create valuable wood products like lumber, but can also generate woody residues with little or no economic value. This waste material is generally burnt or must be hauled away to reduce wildfire risk. The USDA Forest Service and a private company, Air Burners Inc., teamed up to help find a solution to this problem. CharBoss is a mobile machine that converts waste-wood products into biochar, a nutrient-rich product that can be used for soil restoration or to enhance agricultural land.
Debbie Page-Dumroese is a researcher with the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station who helped develop and patent the technology and is a leading expert in the use of biochar. She shared her excitement in the latest developments, “The ability to process woody residues on-site reduces open burning or the need to transport materials off-site, so there is less smoke and air pollution. Even better, we can create this terrific product that can be used to restore damaged soil.”
The CharBoss made its initial debut in Bandon, Oregon in the fall of 2020 by tackling Gorse, an invasive woody shrub, and demonstrating how this technology can be used to also improve wildlife habitat. The CharBoss team recorded the demonstration and it is available online.
Seeing an opportunity to make improvements, the team re-engineered the CharBoss to be more efficient and increase its production volume. The updated CharBoss is being transported from Florida to Idaho this week and when it arrives, the University of Idaho and Rocky Mountain Research Station will host a demonstration for interested land managers and researchers. The event is scheduled to take place at the University of Idaho Experimental Forest near Princeton, Idaho Friday afternoon January 13, 2023. This time it will be chewing up slash created by forest thinning and fuel reduction and turning it into “black gold” – biochar, that is.
Science suggests that biochar can increase seedling quality and enhance degraded soils with its rich carbon content and moisture retention properties. Land managers can use the CharBoss to create biochar on-site without worrying about the logistics of off-site production and transportation. Mobile processing can also help rural economies by providing local materials and jobs for forest restoration or reclaiming abandoned mine sites.
Jim Archuleta is a Forest Service regional biomass coordinator who helped pioneer the innovation of CharBoss. He talks about its potential for mitigating climate change by reducing unnecessary smoke and emissions and returning carbon to soils and vegetation at larger landscape scales, “Making biochar production part and parcel of normal Forest Service activities is the best way to make the seismic changes needed to help adapt to our changing climate.”
CharBoss will be demoed at various workshops across the western United States and Pacific Northwest regions, traveling from Idaho to Montana, Oregon and beyond. It will be moving to a site on the Flathead National Forest next. You can learn more about the technology behind CharBoss here.