Ecological carbon sequestration via wood burial and storage: A strategy for climate mitigation and adaptation


1. Introduction


The urgency of the climate problem is prompting serious policies that will likely transform the role of forestry and agriculture in climate mitigation and adaptation. A novel yet intuitive concept has emerged recently for carbon sequestration by wood burial and storage (WBS), in which forests are managed to optimal productivity and selected coarse woody materials are harvested, then buried in trenches or stowed away in above-ground piles or shelters to prevent decomposition. The stored wood is also a carbon/energy bank that can be a biomass/bioenergy reserve should future biofuel technologies become practical. Initial estimate suggests a global potential of 1-5 GtC per year, and a US potential to offset 10% of its fossil fuel emissions.


A workshop was held September 9-10 at the Heinz Center, Washington DC. The goal of the workshop was to assess critically the carbon sequestration potential of WBS, to identify the real-world opportunities in the US forestry and internationally, in particular in reducing tropical deforestation by providing a forest management strategy that provides livelihood for local populations, and how it can complement Reduced Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD; a major effort in current global climate agreement as well as legislation in the US Congress) in key aspects such as permanence, leakage, verifiability and long-term sustainability. Strategies were explored that would minimize its drawbacks and maximize benefits.


2Workshop participants and agenda


List of participants:

  Anthony King  (DOE/ORNL)

  Ning Zeng (UMD)

  Steve Smith, Tris West, Ben Bond-Lamberty (DOE/PNNL)

Ben Zaitchik (Johns Hopkins)

Dalia Abbas (MSU)

  Roger Sedjo (Resources for the Future)

Steve Hamburg, Ruben Lubowski, Alexander Golub (Environment Defense Fund)

Matt Pearson (Morgan-Stanley)

Neil Sampson (Vision Forestry)

Ian Noble (World Bank)

  Bryan Bloomer (EPA)

  Ken Mooney (NOAA)



Day 1

8:30 Registration

9:00 Opening Remarks (King)

9:15 Background and history of climate mitigation, in particular, carbon sequestration and carbon management strategies (Hamburg)

9:45 Introduction to WBS (Zeng)

10:15 Break

10:45 Practical considerations for WBS (King)

11:15 Implications for climate change policy (Zaitchik)

11:45 Cost of operation (Abbas)

12:00 Economics (West)

12:30 Lunch Break

2:00 Whole group discussion

3:15 Break

3:30 Breakout discussion

  1. Practical potential of WBS, and potential contribution to climate goals and policies; Short-term possibilities: salvage trees from insect/storm damage. How does WBS complement other carbon management strategies such as reforestation and REDD?
  2. Potential environmental impact and social concerns
  3. How to carry out the operation in the real world in a cost effective way?

5:00 Adjorn


Day 2

8:30 Report from the breakout session

9:45 Discussion

10:15 Break

10:30 Discussion: How to move forward?

          Possible papers: identify topics and lead author(s)

          Research priorities and funding opportunities

12:00 End of meeting


3WHS workshop notes by Ben B-L


9:25 Introductions


9:30 Steve Hamburg

            Try and frame large set of questions, provocatively

            There's chaos in policy community re climate mitigation & fixed C

            We can store it; use it; dump it; leave it; combust it; change NPP rates

            Any conversation here has to deal w/ all of these and interactions

            Societal goals: energy; climate; ecosystem and economic sustainability

            Policy options: maximize one of these? optimize several? build on knowledge

            Public policies are not harmonized -> chaos

            Waste is one of biggest challenges: what to do with it?

            Need to think in terms of net rad. forcing & be explicit re assumptions

            Economics have to be considered - will mediate among different uses


            Discussion: economics and changing C price important

            Analytics have to be relevant to the policy!


10:00 Ning Zeng

            Summary of woody biomass storage

                        back-of-envelope sequestration numbers, potential for siphoning off C


            SH: there's a conceptual problem; can't take only dead wood, won't work

            Lots of questioning re 10 GtC & other numbers - realistic?

            ...presentation to be finished in the PM


11:15 Ben Zaitchik

            WBS could in theory fulfill 10-20% of CO2 reduction necessary by 2050

            Policy considerations and problems:

            Domestic - cost; threats to extractive industries; upfront investment

            Meeting targets of (e.g.) Waxman-Markey

            Comprehensive climate agreement (international) is a long way off

            But forestry, REDD, etc., progress still possible; obsess w/ targets

            Deforestation and forest degradation: 20% of emissions globally


            SH: comparisons are good, but what's the point? compared to what?

            SJS: WBS has many issues similar to C sequestration in soils

                        (esp. permanence; tough to 'credit')


11:50 Tony King

            Practical considerations of WBS: price (economics), policy, preferences

            How wood is used has implications for GHGs, climate change, ecology, society, economics, etc.

            Finite land is big, big consideration: increasing population already using most of arable land

            Bottom-up (practical) assessment suggests current wood sequestration via harvest of 0.1-0.2 PgC/yr


            SH: doubling product use of wood would, via energy offsets, be feasible and could approach a Socolow wedge


            TK: WBS not a silver bullet but has at least some potential, particularly if wood going into products


12:40 Dalia Abbas

            WBS cost of operations

            Operations costs incurred at site, transport, road, wood yard

            Differences of whole-tree and stem harvest; equipment; etc.

            Cost breakdown of SNF thinning operation

            Alternatives to WBS: conventional trts; land uses; reduce management costs; wood uses; equipment uses; C storage methods; biodiversity considerations; social/cultural considerations; other management objectives


13:45 Tris West

            Economics of WBS: not an economist and not a forester!

            Drivers: competing uses; perceived risks; public support

            Issues for consideration: is offsetting better than storage? Has full C accounting been done? How will WBS 'shock' the wood products industry and effect indirect LUC? Will the public support this?

            Models - including GCAM

            Impacts on hydrological cycle?

            What are dealbreakers, if any, of WBS?


14:45 Ning Zeng (cont.)

            Potential WBS offsets as a % of emissions

            Implementation: how to create "carbon/energy bank"

            Trench digging; piling/shelter building followed by long-term maintenance

            Examples (coffin, landfills) of low-decomposition situations

            Incredible photo from Sweden--multi-km long temporary log holding line

            Example: 1 km x 1 km harvest, 500 tC wood, 40x10x7 m trench...cost is high

            Ian Noble: economics not impossible, but very difficult