High school senior develops eco-friendly biochar kiln

Neha Krishnakumar sits with Brenda Vanderloop with the Sammamish Valley Grange, where she presented her biochar project. Courtesy photo

By Garrett Stanley

Neha Krishnakumar first learned about the dangerous effects of greenhouse gases in her 10th-grade science class.

Now a senior at Nikola Tesla Stem High School in Redmond, Neha was inspired to expand her knowledge in this field when she entered the Central Sound Regional Science and Engineering Fair her junior year. While attending the event, Neha became aware of the concept of biochar, which is a method of burning organic material, such as wood or leaves.

“Working with Professor Samuel Abiven, I proved that biochar can decrease carbon emissions,” Neha said.

From there, Neha wanted to continue her project and hopefully earn the Girl Scout Gold Award. And with that goal in mind, Neha developed a biochar kiln, a large metal barrel with a filtration system used for cleaner burning.

“What is left over is a very porous and carbon concentrated material,” Neha said. “The idea of biochar has been there for ages but making the biochar kiln and the implementation, I created that myself.

“It helps sequester the carbon in the soil and improve soil fertility so that there isn’t as much erosion and greenhouse gases.”

Essentially, the biochar can be charged with fertilizer and distributed in the soil, which reduces the carbon burning into the atmosphere and instead makes it available to assist in plant and bacteria growth.

“My goal for my girl scout project is to educate people—the kiln and the biochar aren’t enough,” Neha said. “The main idea was creating an instructional video that could educate other people on how they could create biochar kilns of their own.”

Neha wasn’t expecting many people to reach out to her about the biochar kiln, but they have.

“I didn’t realize my idea would become such a big hit,” she said.

Neha hopes that people will see her video and make biochar kilns of their own.

“I can see people burning organic waste in their backyard instead of just throwing it away,” Neha said. “It helps farmers financially and they’re also helping their crops; it’s a win-win.”

Neha encourages others to get involved with the climate crisis.

“The more people know about it, the more people can help,” she said. “As long as you have an idea and goal in mind, you just need to find a way to communicate with others—it’s not as hard as it seems.”

In the future, Neha hopes to pursue a career in electrical engineering.

“I want to do something with the environment and the power grid—right now, we have a very dated power grid,” she said, hoping to help usher in an era of clean energy.

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