Beetle-Killed Trees Could Be Turned Into Biofuel, Researchers Say

Scientists receive $10 million (€7.46 million) to research the possibility

By on November 9th, 2013 21:01 GMT

Researchers in the US have received a $10 million (€7.46 million) grant to study whether or not it might be possible to use the hundreds of trees killed by beetles on a yearly basis to produce biofuel.

The research program debuted this week, and will last for five more years to come.

The scientists taking part in it are expected to determine if turning dead trees across the country into biofuel would be cost-effective, and if such a project could be rolled out without causing further damage to the environment and fueling climate change.

“A crucial thing with biofuels is that we understand just how much greenhouse gases do we really offset,” says soil ecologist Keith Paustain with the Colorado State University, as cited by NBC News.

“Because obviously if we use lots of fossil fuels or we cause lots of emissions in producing the biofuels, then we are really not gaining as much as we might hope to,” the specialist details.

In order to be turned into biofuel, the trees would have to be burnt in the absence of oxygen.

This process would translate into the production of both hydrogen fuels and biochar, i.e. a byproduct that enhances soil quality when added to agricultural lands.

The research project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the same source reports.

The Institute believes that, by using beetle-killed trees to make biofuels, it would be possible to both fight such infestations and improve on the country's ecological footprint by promoting the use of green energy sources.

What's more, it is likely that the country's economy would also benefit from the creation of hundreds of job opportunities, the Institute argues.

Soil ecologist Keith Paustain stresses that, the way he sees things, the main problem with this project is that beetle attacks on trees don't follow a pattern, meaning that refineries that convert beetle-killed trees into biofuel risk not having a constant flow of supplies.

Word has it that the researchers plan to solve this problem by designing a type of movable refinery that can be set up in an area, used to turn whatever dead trees are available into biofuel, and then moved to some other region once local supplies run out.

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