A tricky thing about Woody Biomass Burial (“WBB”) is the need to deal with lots of widely divergent activities.
First you have to come up with supply of wood, processed in particular ways, potentially from lots of different public and private sources. You need to gather it out of the forest using one set of tools, and then transport it using other tools.
Then you have to put the wood in the ground. You have to weigh the wood and you have to calculate how dry it is. Then you have to dig a large pit, put the wood in the pit, and then cover it over, all while carefully following precise specifications. You need to do all of this in a way that minimizes decomposition of the wood, minimizes the release of greenhouse gases, and destroys the worst gas that happens to be released.
Then you need to figure out how to get someone to pay you for the work you’ve done. They buy the carbon credits you’ve created, especially when credible third party auditors like puro.earth certify your work. With their signature on the dotted line, companies that don’t know you might be willing to give you a fair price for the work you’ve done.
Along the way, governments at various levels need to support your efforts. In the US the forest service or bureau of land management need to agree to let you take even unmerchantable dead wood. States tend to regulate burial pits; Counties often manage zoning laws. And municipalities may organize road usage. Neighbors might need to support rights of way and put up with other “nuisances”.
All of these are long rows to hoe, but this list doesn’t even begin to address the long-term implications of Woody Biomass Burial.
I personally believe the WBB industry will emerge around the world with a handful of companies that compete and build scale across multiple projects. This handful of companies will be flanked by lots of smaller single-project organizations, operating in local geographies or markets. These smaller organizations will find WBB attractive because the opportunity aligns with the assets and operations in their existing portfolio. The assets might include, for example, mines that need to be remediated and covered up, or solar array companies looking to generate additional revenue streams on their land, or forest conservancies looking to reduce fire risk and increase the CO2 absorption capacity of their forests. There will be many players and I think there will be space for all of them.
However, Many players, large and small, make sense only in parts of the value chain. Other parts make more sense when a smaller set of competitors run the market. I refer primarily to the long-term aspects of delivering Woody Biomass Burrial.
Let’s back up. I see two key phases in WBB: the Operational phase and the Maintenance phase. The Operational phase takes place in the first years of the project, when wood is collected, buried, covered, and monetized. Then, in the Maintenance phase pits and wood must be monitored and maintained, and any actual or potential problems redressed. Since no revenue is collected during the Maintenance phase, Operators are generally required to set aside a trust or endowment to pay for long-term maintenance. Currently the market stipulates a 100 year maintenance window, but I believe products will emerge, stretching that to 500 years, or shortening that to as little as five years after the wood is covered.
I believe the Maintenance phase will emerge as a separate business. Maintenance companies will develop a brand and become credible to certification organizations and carbon credit buyers. Operators entering the market will partner with a maintainer upfront and articulate a future transfer of rights and responsibilities, that certifiers can support.
Maintainers could offer the following to operators:
- Sensor and monitoring system design, development, deployment
- Centralized (remote) monitoring and distributed (on-the-ground) monitoring
- Emergency Response
- Endowment and trust management
- Legal, geological, technological, local emergency service, and other situational reviews
Relying on and partnering with long-term Maintainers will allow easier, quicker market entry, and similarly, market exits. Maintainers could absorb some or all of the following from Operators:
- Land ownership, leases, and/or rights of way
- Contractual obligations with carbon credit buyers and certifiers
- Trust management
- Insurance management costs
- Distributed facilities maintenance
- Onsite and distributed monitoring
Some colleagues and I will be drawing up a business plan for a WBB Maintainence organization, describing all of the long-term roles someone will need to play. We’ll keep you posted on our progress and similarly, look for opportunities to collaborate with other industry participants!