Woodcache PBC

Carbon Sequestration via Wood Burial

Ning Zeng
Carbon Balance and Management
Peer Reviewed: Yes
Year Published: 2008

Key Takeaways:

  • The author estimates that the long-term sustainable carbon sequestration potential of wood burial is 10±5 GtCO2/yr.
  • Costs of carbon sequestration for this method are substantially lower than power plant CO2 capture because carbon is removed at little cost through photosynthesis.
  • The author argues that biomass burial through wood vaulting essentially replicates the process by which fossil fuels were formed.
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Do Wood Vaults Really Work?


To mitigate global climate change, a portfolio of strategies will be needed to keep the atmospheric CO2 concentration below a dangerous level. Here a carbon sequestration strategy is proposed in which certain dead or live trees are harvested via collection or selective cutting, then buried in trenches or stowed away in above-ground shelters. The largely anaerobic condition under a sufficiently thick layer of soil will prevent the decomposition of the buried wood. Because a large flux of CO2 is constantly being assimilated into the world’s forests via photosynthesis, cutting off its return pathway to the atmosphere forms an effective carbon sink.

It is estimated that a sustainable long-term carbon sequestration potential for wood burial is 10 ± 5 GtC y-1, and currently about 65 GtC is on the world’s forest floors in the form of coarse woody debris suitable for burial. The potential is largest in tropical forests (4.2 GtC y-1), followed by temperate (3.7 GtC y-1) and boreal forests (2.1 GtC y-1). Burying wood has other benefits including minimizing CO2 source from deforestation, extending the lifetime of reforestation carbon sink, and reducing fire danger. There are possible environmental impacts such as nutrient lock-up which nevertheless appears manageable, but other concerns and factors will likely set a limit so that only part of the full potential can be realized.

Based on data from North American logging industry, the cost for wood burial is estimated to be $14/tCO2($50/tC), lower than the typical cost for power plant CO2 capture with geological storage. The cost for carbon sequestration with wood burial is low because CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by the natural process of photosynthesis at little cost. The technique is low tech, distributed, easy to monitor, safe, and reversible, thus an attractive option for large-scale implementation in a world-wide carbon market.