Interdisciplinary student team develops “Farm to Flame” plan for energy grids powered by farm waste

Farm-to-Flame student team at computers 

When Will McKnight’s grandfather and uncle devised a process for converting farm waste to power, their goal was a simple one.

“They wanted to replace wood pellets that produce smoke and toxins – that’s where the idea came from” said McKnight ‘18.

His family obtained a patent for the clean burning biomass-to-energy system they developed when McKnight was a young boy. As he grew older, McKnight started thinking about other uses and ways to generate power on a larger scale. He researched projects but knew he needed help to move a business plan forward.

“I needed people to help me design something that could be built,” said McKnight.

McKnight,a history major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, reached out to his friend Kwaku Jyamfi ’18 and SUNY ESF student Sayje Lasenberry ’19 to help him advance the technology. Jyamfi is a chemical engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and Lasenberry is studying sustainable energy management.

“The SU campus is kind of a business incubator,” said McKnight.

Together, McKnight, Jyamfi and Lasenberry launched an enterprise called “Farm to Flame”. They hope to develop localized energy grids in rural African communities powered by farm waste. The team is already partnering with a green energy utility company in the Congo.

Jyamfi is from Ghana and quickly saw the potential for an energy system that would benefit farmers and neighbors.

“Agriculture is on the forefront of their economy,” said Jyamfi. “In addition to giving utility companies another option, we are giving a new revenue stream to small scale farmers to use their waste.”

The team is passionate about their business plan and technology but also about the opportunity for sustainable entrepreneurship.

“I just think that anything someone here in America can do for someone in need is a good cause,” said Jyamfi.

Farm to Flame Energy advanced from the Syracuse campus qualifier for the Hult Prize, hosted by the Blackstone LaunchPad. The Hult Prize is known as the “Nobel Prize for student startups.”  Each year organizers seek out socially conscious student businesses plans that compete to solve the world’s toughest challenges.  This year’s theme, “Harnessing the Power of Energy,” issued a challenge to conceive a scalable solution to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025.

The Farm to Flame team will now present during regional finals in Boston on March 9th and 10th.

McKnight and Jyamfi say the diversity of programs and colleges on the Syracuse campus made this interdisciplinary collaboration a success.

“You can’t build it alone,” said McKnight. “We are stronger together.”

Story by Alex Dunbar, College of Engineering and Computer Science news