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If there’s a piece of wood out there, James Gaspard will probably take it.
The 17 acres his company owns in Berthoud, Colo., is stacked with rejected trees from across the state. The beetle-kill branches and fire-scarred trunks wait to be fed into 100 massive kilns, which look like a fleet of rusty UFOs landing in the farmland below Longs Peak.
His company, Biochar Now, uses the contraptions to convert wood into biochar, a carbon-rich charcoal that can help soil retain water and nutrients.
Gaspard said the cannabis industry has been an early and loyal customer, but he sees vast possibilities beyond agriculture. In his office, he showed off newer product ideas: cat litter, animal feed, water filters, plastic, soap — all made from wood usually treated as trash.
“We’re making a market for stuff that had no market,” Gaspard said.
As Colorado recovers from its worst wildfire season in recorded history, many foresters see entrepreneurs like Gaspard as essential. Products like biochar could provide the financial motivation for fire mitigation products, which reduce fuels but also creates massive piles of unwanted timber.