New forest management approach: Burying wood waste

Proponents seek to expand markets for biomass

As attitudes in the American West adjust to the need for more aggressive forest management to reduce fire risk, a new effort is looking at a surprisingly different approach to a related problem — waste wood that remains on the forest floor. That approach is to bury it.

This seems surprising since there are productive uses for this biomass that are also attracting attention like biochar (which can be used to improve soil), engineered wood that can be used in construction, and wood pellets that can be used as a replacement fuel to generate electricity.

But Kodama Systems of Sonora, California, which is developing systems to automate forest thinning, is exploring burial as the end point for some of the surplus wood generated in the process. And it has attracted some support from non-forest products investors to the effort: Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Congruent Ventures and other investors who have put up $6.6 million in support of a trial.

Also involved is the Yale Carbon Containment Laboratory, whose Managing Director Justin Freiburg said, "Biomass utilization is a significant bottleneck to scaling forest restoration across the American West. Many restoration projects are stuck in limbo because the wood is unmerchantable," said Justin Freiberg, managing director of the Yale Carbon Containment Lab. "We're excited to be collaborating with Kodama on a novel method of biomass utilization because it has potential to open new markets and match the distributed nature of the problem."

Here’s the Kodama announcement:

The announcement said in part: “Decades of fire suppression, among other factors, have resulted in forests across the western U.S. that are overstocked, disease-prone, and at risk of catastrophic wildfires. Wildfires have increased in intensity over the past decade, threatening communities and acting as a headwind for carbon emissions reduction efforts.”

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