Managing Rights-of-Way for Biomass Generation and/or Carbon Sequestration

Right-of-way vegetation management is a major responsibility of state departments of transportation (DOTs). Traditionally, roadside vegetation has been managed for a variety of purposes important to the public, especially safety, but also roadway integrity, habitat, native plant restoration, invasive plant reduction, aesthetics, water quality, and erosion control. Increasingly however, the DOTs are now being asked to also manage their roadsides to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Biomass production and carbon sequestration are the two most likely ways that DOTs would approach this issue--through planting and management of potential bio-fuel inputs, on the one hand, or through long-term management of vegetation for maximum carbon storage, on the other (although these two goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive). Biomass production and carbon sequestration, when combined with the traditional right-of-way management objectives, will create a huge challenge for DOT vegetation managers. If the challenge is to be met, vegetation mangers will need improved lists of native and non-invasive plants appropriate for roadside use; the latest physical, chemical, and biological control techniques that are safe and effective; the latest technology and equipment; ways to supplement the maintenance and operations records that are currently kept; and updated training. For example, in some cases, reducing emissions through modified management practices, such as reduced mowing, can contribute more to meeting GHG goals than carbon sequestration. Finally, the study will develop a measurement technique to assess the ability of highway landscape management to sequester carbon and provide strategies for good native roadside biomass production techniques that will maximize the eventual carbon credits. This may be accomplished through the following tasks: (1) Conduct a search of existing programs or specific cases of management for biomass production or carbon sequestration on transportation rights-of-way nationally and internationally. (2) Preliminarily assess the issues relative to biomass production and/or carbon sequestration in the right-of-way. Identify issues to be explored, including calculation of baselines and determination of DOT efforts. (3) Submit an interim report to the panel detailing the results of Phase I research. Submit a Phase II research plan for NCHRP review and approval. Review both documents at an interim meeting. (4) Conduct a search for native and non-invasive species information and identify those that are most appropriate for biomass production and/or carbon sequestration on transportation rights-of-way. (5) Search the literature for information on the carbon sequestration capabilities of those species identified in item #4, including how the carbon capturing capability is measured, and for information on potential for biomass/biofuel production. In the case of carbon sequestration, also look at combinations of species/ecosystem management techniques that are likely to produce the highest carbon sequestration. (6) Assess the capability of the selected species in meeting the traditional functions of roadside vegetation (e.g., safety, esthetics, erosion control, native revegetation, avoiding the spread of invasive species). (7) Assess the pros and cons of biomass production and/or carbon sequestration in the right-of-way relative to other avenues of carbon reduction in maintenance at DOTs, looking at published models and approaches, such as Caltrans. (8) Identify how to supplement the maintenance and operations records that are currently kept. Examples include land ownership records, fuel purchases, electricity usage, and mowing statistics. Land ownership records are important in determining the number of acres under the DOT's control and thus potentially available for carbon sequestration. Data such as fuel purchases and electricity usage are important because evidence of emissions reductions can be used to meet GHG goals outlined in a contract with a carbon market. (9) Determine the availability of information on carbon sequestration offset protocols and guidelines for the land-use types (e.g., grassland, native forest) and management techniques that are likely to apply to rights-of-way, to provide GHG benefits in addition to existing practice, and to qualify for carbon credits, which will speak to the marketability of emission reductions. (10) Develop a final report which recommends ecosystem based plant lists appropriate for biomass production and which include the carbon sequestration capabilities of each species (or combination of species). The report will also contain recommended methods for measuring sequestration and possible scenarios for claiming carbon credits. Such a process would hinge on a systematic approach that establishes a baseline level of carbon currently being sequestered in the soils, grasses, and woody shrubs of the right-of-way. Other physical characteristics of the right-of-way, such as precipitation, soil moisture, and standing crop, can help predict how much carbon can be sequestered. (11) Determining carbon credits will require use of a qualifying accounting methodology by each state DOT project which addresses various established GHG protocol steps and existing guidelines. Offset protocols provide detailed guidance for a project developer on how to: (1) determine if the project meets all eligibility criteria, including regulatory screens, additionally assessments, and other criteria including project duration and location; (2) define the project boundary (e.g., physical location, GHG accounting, and temporal boundaries); (3) select and quantify a baseline, based on existing quantification methodologies and calculation tools; (4) quantify and monitor project GHG emissions and calculate GHG reductions; and (5) meet other protocol requirements such as permanence and leakage measures. Other elements of the protocol may include guidelines for project start dates and duration, and verification and reporting requirements. Establishing acceptable baselines and monitoring procedures for land-use offset projects, especially those involving soils and biomass production, often proves particularly challenging. For example, soil carbon sequestration and emissions are extremely variable and are dependent on rainfall, temperature, crop type, past crop types, soil moisture and organic matter content, soil type, and other factors. Baseline establishment is a difficult and critical step, as is the establishment of rigorous monitoring procedures. Under a national "cap-and-trade" system, which is an emissions reduction policy that would impose a national emissions ceiling (or cap) that is reduced over time, participation (trading) in a carbon market would help reduce compliance costs for those entities with emissions greater than an established threshold. Under cap-and-trade, these entities are required to either reduce emissions or purchase carbon allowances or carbon offsets to meet the threshold. Various state and multi-state initiatives have set targets and established policy commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Ten northeastern and mid-Atlantic states have formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and several western states and two provinces of western Canada have formed the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). As state agencies, DOTs are likely to be asked to participate in these efforts and biomass production and carbon sequestration in the right-of-way is one answer, given the large amount of land area DOTs manage. In order to efficiently and effectively ascertain the costs and the benefits, stakeholders including DOT CEOs/CAOs, maintenance managers, project development and construction managers, and front-line staff such as landscape architects require the described research.<p> </p>


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 25-35

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  USA  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC    20001

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  USA  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Reynaud, David

  • Start Date: 20100618
  • Source Data: RiP Project 26562

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01463896
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: National Cooperative Highway Research Program
  • Contract Numbers: Project 25-35
  • Files: TRB, RiP, USDOT
  • Created Date: Jan 3 2013 2:32PM