Saturday, September 2, 2023

Carbon Credits: Bill Gates And The Plan To Thin Forests In An Area The Size Of Nevada

As has been pointed out for years by ourselves and others, contra the physical or chemical approaches where the capture is the bottleneck, the carbon capture is easy, the  sequestration bit is the hard part of any plant-based carbon removal effort.

First up, from MIT's Technology Review, December 15, 2022:

A stealth effort to bury wood for carbon removal has just raised millions
Kodama has raised more than $6 million from Bill Gates’ climate fund and other investors, as it pursues new ways to reduce wildfire risks and lock away carbon in harvested trees.

A California startup is pursuing a novel, if simple, plan for ensuring that dead trees keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere for thousands of years: burying their remains underground.

Kodama Systems, a forest management company based in the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Sonora, has been operating in stealth mode since it was founded last summer. But MIT Technology Review can now report the company has raised around $6.6 million from Bill Gates’s climate fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures, as well as Congruent Ventures and other investors.

In addition, the payments company Stripe will reveal on Thursday that it’s provided a $250,000 research grant to the company and its research partner, the Yale Carbon Containment Lab, as part of a broader carbon removal announcement. That grant will support a pilot effort to bury waste biomass harvested from California forests in the Nevada desert and study how well it prevents the release of greenhouse gases that drive climate change. 

It also agreed to purchase about 415 tons of carbon dioxide eventually sequestered by the company for another $250,000, if that proof-of-concept project achieves certain benchmarks.

“Biomass burial has the potential to become a low-cost, high-scale approach for carbon removal, though there is a need for further investigation into its long-term durability,” said Joanna Klitzke, procurement and ecosystem strategy lead for Stripe.

For the last several years, Stripe has pre-purchased tons of carbon dioxide that startups aim to eventually draw out of the air and permanently sequester, in an effort to help build up a carbon removal industry. It has also helped establish a different model for counteracting corporate climate emissions that goes beyond simply purchasing carbon credits from popular offsets projects, such as those that involve planting trees, which have come under growing scrutiny.

A handful of research groups and startups have begun exploring the potential to lock up the carbon in wood, by burying or otherwise storing tree remains in ways that slow down decomposition.

Trees are naturally efficient at sucking down vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, but they release the carbon again when they die and rot on the ground. Sequestering trees underground could prevent this. If biomass burial works as well as hoped, it may provide a relatively cheap and easy way to pull down some share of the billions of tons of greenhouse gas that studies find may need to be removed to keep global temperatures in check in the coming decades. 

But until it’s been done on large scales and studied closely, it remains to be seen how much it will cost, how much carbon it could store, and how long and reliably it may keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Dead wood
Forest experts have long warned that decades of overly aggressive fire suppression policies in the US have produced dense, overgrown forests that significantly increase the risk of major conflagrations when wildfires inevitably occur. Climate change has exacerbated those dangers by creating hotter and drier conditions....


And from Forbes, July 28:

Chop Down Forests To Save The Planet? Maybe Not As Crazy As It Sounds
Bill Gates and other investors are betting Kodama Systems can reduce carbon dioxide in the air by chopping down and burying trees. Now if only Uncle Sam would get on board with tax credits, too.

A year ago, Merritt Jenkins moved from Boston to Twain Harte, California, a speck of 2,500 souls in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. On his morning commute, he stops at Alicia’s Sugar Shack for a breakfast sandwich (scrambled eggs on rye with avocado), then heads to a 10-acre patch of woods in the Stanislaus National Forest. There, his startup, Kodama Systems, is testing and perfecting its 25-foot-long, 17-ton semiautonomous timber harvesting machine.

Loggers use such machines, known as skidders, to grab tons of cut trees and debris and drag them out of the woods. Kodama’s version is designed to do the job even at night, with fewer workers, using satellite connectivity and advanced lidar (light detection and ranging) cameras, the same type that are used on self-driving cars, to monitor the work remotely. It isn’t easy. “There’s a lot of texture to the trees. Every 10 feet of skid trail is slightly different,” says Jenkins, 35.

But logging in the dark isn’t the most intriguing part of the plans at Kodama, which has raised $6.6 million in seed funding from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy and others. After cutting down the trees, Jenkins plans to bury them—to help slow climate change and to reap salable carbon offsets (and maybe, someday, tax credits too).

Yes, the conventional idea is to plant trees to soak up carbon dioxide from the air and to then sell credits to corporations, private jet owners and others who need or want to offset their emissions. But scientists say burying trees can reduce global warming as well—particularly if those trees would otherwise end up burning or decaying, spewing their stored carbon into the air.

California’s enormous 2020 wildfires drove home the risks to air, property and life posed by overgrown forests. “The orange skies in San Francisco were an inflection point. Now the story resonates,” says Jimmy Voorhis, head of biomass utilization and policy at Kodama. The alarm bells are sounding even louder this year as Canadian wildfires have spread dangerous air conditions to New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

To help address the problem, the U.S. Forest Service aims to thin out 70 million acres of western forests, mostly in California, over the next decade, extracting more than 1 billion tons of bone-dry biomass. It is customary, after such forest thinning, for logs of marketable size to go to sawmills, with most of the rest piled up and later burned under controlled conditions. Kodama wants to bury the leftovers instead—in earthen vaults designed to maintain dry and anoxic (oxygen-free) conditions and protect the wood from rotting or burning.

Along with the VC seed money, Kodama has already received $1.1 million in grants from California’s forest fire agency and others, as well as purchase commitments for the carbon credits tied to the first 400 tons of trees it buries. On the open market, those credits should fetch $200 a ton. Eventually Kodama wants to cut down and bury more than 5,000 tons of trees a year.

A Dartmouth grad with degrees in both engineering and environmental studies, Jenkins started selling used robotic equipment while earning a master’s in robotics at Carnegie Mellon. Then he cofounded a company that uses machine learning to help farmers analyze soil. But in 2019, while earning an MBA at MIT, he concluded there was more opportunity in fores­try than in the crowded ag-tech field. He backed away from the AI company and spent months with loggers to understand how they use equipment, and by 2021 had settled on forestry robotics, convinced that labor shortages would drive demand. “There’s not enough workforce,” he says. “We’ll need new training and new technologies” to meet the Forest Service’s clearing goals.

He also saw another “big gap” in the industry: what to do with all that biomass. He had heard about biomass vaults from Yale’s Carbon Containment Lab. Then mutual friends introduced him to Voorhis, a 33-year-old mountaineer, geologist and earth sciences engineer (with an M.S. from Dartmouth), who had become obsessed with the idea of reclaiming old mines as biomass burial sites. They joined forces.

The notion of burying trees sounds simple and low-tech, particularly when compared with the convoluted “carbon capture” technology now being developed to pull CO2 from the air. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act Democrats passed in 2022, companies like Occidental Petroleum and ExxonMobil could qualify for tax credits of $85 per ton of CO2 sequestered if they can perfect systems to suck the gas directly from the air and transport it by pipeline before injecting it permanently underground. The IRA further incentivizes some of these projects with tax credits equal to 30% or more of upfront capital invested.

If you want to cut down trees and pelletize them to burn in place of coal, there are tax credits for that too. But not, as of now, for burying them....

"the size of Nevada" in the headline is based on the highlighted "70 million acres", approximately 110,000 square miles vs Nevada's area 110,567 square miles.

If interested see also the somewhat related "Thinking outside the box on climate change: "Can mass deforestation cool the environment?"" and the very related:

April 2023
A Serious Suggestion For Making Carbon Credits/Carbon Offsets Less Of A Scam

We've been railing against considering carbon offsets as anything other than a scam for a long time. Here's a snip from a 2007 post that cuts to the heart of the matter (emphasis in long-ago original):

...Even Vinod Khosla, a very, very smart guy, putting his money into cellulosic and Brazilian cane ethanol, said on the Charlie Rose Show that he flies around carbon neutral.

C'mon Mr. K., in the first place it's not the same as changing your lifestyle! Secondly and more importantly, it either takes a whole bunch of tree's one year to suck up the carbon from one Heathrow-LAX or it takes ten trees 40-50 years. And then you have to guarantee that they never burn or rot, or you've accomplished nothing but a temporary salving of the conscience.

And that's the problem. After sucking up the CO2 and turning it into plant material, the plant dies. And it either burns or rots and either way, the CO2 that you sequestered is un-sequestered and nothing was accomplished in the real world.....
And 2021's "Global Warming: Credit Suisse On You Being Responsible For CO2 Emissions (plus carbon sequestration)":
They're big into trees which is fine. I mean you like trees, I like trees, everybody likes trees.

But as a long term answer to the CO2 issue, trees don't work. Trees die, and when they die they release the stored carbon which gloms on to atmospheric oxygen and turns into CO2. Or the trees get burned, again releasing the carbon which combines with oxygen to make CO2.

The British have been working on this problem for centuries and have come up with a very clever solution: cut the trees down and then store them so they don't decay. Here's an example:

That's Westminster Great Hall. Here's a close-up of the hammer-beam roof:

Samantha Tan, “Westminster Hall's (detail of hammer-beam roof),” Medieval London, accessed November 19, 2021,

According to Samantha Tan at Fordham University's Medieval London exhibit the timbers weigh 660 tons and have sequestered the carbon in this form for over 700 years.

The British use this type of storage throughout the land and people visit from around the world to marvel at the secrets of carbon sequestration 

We'll be back to the Credit Suisse report tomorrow or you can see it here, 29 page PDF