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Beetle-kill to biochar – good climate sense?

John Field
Colorado State University

Historic management practices and recent climate extremes have left forests across the Rocky Mountains particularly vulnerable to endemic pine and spruce beetles, leading to unprecedented infestations and widespread tree mortality on more than 40 million acres over the last two decades.  Land managers in affected areas often struggle to cover the costs of beetle-kill treatment for infrastructure protection, habitat restoration, and other land management goals.  However, bioenergy and biochar co-production from low-quality woody residues is emerging as a potential win-win-win solution that increases the financial viability of beetle-kill management, promotes economic development, and provides climate benefits.  The Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR) is dedicated to advancing science-based underpinnings and quantifying the practical feasibility and environmental and social desirability of this potential new regional industry. In this presentation we introduce the BANR project and detail our efforts around quantifying the potential climate benefits of bioenergy and biochar co-production from beetle-killed woody biomass.  We give a high-level overview of several local producers, exploring the range of conversion technologies and facility scales that are currently in operation or may be built in the near future.  We further explore these technologies in the context of a climate impact accounting framework that considers the ecosystem response of beetle-kill harvest, the logistics of feedstock removal and pre-processing, and the mitigation value of energy and biochar products, reporting on our preliminary estimates for climate mitigation value.  We end with a discussion of other sustainability challenges and policy barriers to more widespread application of these technologies across the region.

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