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Funding an early-stage biomass-sinking experiment
September 18, 2023

The CO2 Foundation is consistently willing to consider project proposals outside of its current funding opportunities. The Foundation is now funding its first such proposal, for a biomass-sinking pilot project, thanks to early outreach from and ongoing conversations with the project team.

Hasten Regeneration is a California-based effort that conducts research, design, and education activities to incubate promising nature-based solutions and engage communities and organizations in regenerative climate projects. Its CO2 Foundation-funded project is designed to test a simple, evidence-based, safe, effective, and accessible carbon removal approach that aims to also create climate resilience by addressing forest fire risk.

Hazard-fuel reduction is a fire risk management strategy in which low-growing biomass that heightens fire risk is removed from fire-prone forests. Thinning trees, removing underbrush, and limbing up trees creates cut material that is often ground into chips or piled and burned during the winter. Along with other types of “waste” biomass, that material may be able to be utilized in another way: biomass that is sunk sufficiently deep underwater sequesters the carbon it contains. It must be noted that this project will not be incentivizing removal of healthy trees; monitoring and verification of material sourcing are extremely important to any development of the ideas being tested at this early project stage.

During their pilot project, Hasten will be pressurizing different sizes and densities of forest, fruit, and farm residue in the lab to establish when negative buoyancy kicks in, and then going into the field to test the ocean depth and time required to sink wood of various diameters. The team will be rigorously documenting their research protocol, and aiming to publicize their findings via podcasts, interviews, white papers, and scientific publications. In the second phase, they will demonstrate various wood-sinking mechanisms in the Santa Barbara channel, which has a depth of 1500-2000 feet. All tests will be conducted with the wood samples tethered to the sinking apparatus and returned to the boat, with nothing actually being “dumped.”

The goal of this project is to develop a low-tech method that can be practiced worldwide with commonly-available materials, making carbon markets accessible to coastal populations. Based on test results, Hasten will begin to explore additional sinking processes and mechanisms for future large volume operations, create visual media of waterlogging-based sinking, and produce a Life Cycle Analysis for the entire process, including the potential for ocean floor ecosystem impacts. The team envisions scaling up testing while creating public awareness of ocean-based carbon sequestration opportunities and effective monitoring, reporting, and verification processes.

The CO2 Foundation sees value in doing early-stage research on this process. There is educational value in the non-intuitive fact that wood can be made to sink; the possibility of storing carbon away permanently using ubiquitous waste material is intriguing; and using natural biology and avoidance of any chemicals or processing addresses environmental concerns. Finally, the possibility of an alternative income by carbon-credit generation for coastal residents around the world is a pathway by which carbon dioxide removal (CDR) could be compatible with sustainable development.