Stopping Our Climate Goals From Going Up in Flames

Rather than being burnt in fields, massive amounts of agriculture waste could be transformed into useful products via a patented new process.


When we grow plants for food, only about 20 percent of it is the part we intend to eat. What remains after the harvest — the branches, stems, roots, husks, and leaves — ends up as tens of thousands of billions of kilograms of agricultural waste every year. And today most of that crop waste is cleared by burning it in the field.

Environmentally, this is a tragedy. It contributes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s also a practice that can accidentally spark wildfires. In a year where Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season in history, it’s time to look for cleaner solutions.

Takachar is spearheading the development of a patented thermochemical process that fits that bill. It can take loose, wet crop waste and transform it into valuable products like solid fuel, fertilizer, and activated carbon.

As co-founders, CEO Vidyut Mohan and CTO Kevin Kung are overseeing pilot projects in British Columbia, California, and India. Several prototypes have been rolled out in First Nations communities in BC in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, where Kung is a post-doctoral fellow.

Outside of the pilot, if a farmer wants to process crop waste in a similar way, they need to haul it all to a centralized facility — an expensive logistical hassle that makes it inaccessible to most farmers compared to the value they might get in return. This is especially true for rural farmers who would need to transport their waste even further. Instead, Takachar’s innovation is fully portable, bringing the technology to the farm. All the equipment needed fits into a towable form factor, making it possible to conveniently process waste on site.

The reactor carries out a process where heat helps drive out low-energy molecules, leaving behind higher-grade, carbon-rich, and energy-dense solids that are easier to transport and store. Most centralized operations fully exclude oxygen, but this makes their reactors large and complex. Kung experimented with using oxygen-lean conditions and found that it was still possible to carry out the process with simpler and smaller reactors, and this was key to making Takachar’s technology portable.

As a further incentive for farmers to participate, Takachar pays farms for their crop waste, getting their revenue from selling the fertilizer and other products they make to the community. In turn, that fertilizer helps local farmers increase their yields. It’s a model where everybody wins. They have helped thousands of farmers add to their earnings.

Setting our crop waste on fire won’t help us achieve our climate goals. Takachar gives farmers a practical alternative for clearing their fields that could spark meaningful change.

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Karyn Ho is a science animator and engineer who thrives at the interface between science, engineering, medicine, and art. She earned her MScBMC (biomedical communications) and PhD (chemical engineering and biomedical engineering) at the University of Toronto. Karyn is passionate about using cutting edge discoveries to create dynamic stories as a way of supporting innovation, collaboration, education, and informed decision making. By translating knowledge into narratives, her vision is to captivate people, spark their curiosity, and motivate them to share what they learned.