Using Insect-Killed Trees for Biofuel Focus of $10 Million Study

By Rich Christianson | Posted: 11/23/2013 11:04AM


Pine Mountain Beetle WASHINGTON – The potential of converting trees killed by spruce and pine beetles into liquid biofuel will be explored in a research project being led by Colorado State University (CSU).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently awarded nearly $10 million for the project to research using insect-killed trees in the Rockies as a sustainable feedstock for bio-energy. The funding was provided under the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

click image to zoomMountain Pine Beetle Ravaged ForestA young, healthy stand of lodgepole pine grows in the foreground with a backdrop of trees devastated by the mountain pine beetle outbreak on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.. "Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted over 42 million acres of U.S. forests since 1996, and a changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetle on our forest lands," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, this innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America."

The USDA noted there are many challenges to the wide spread use of beetle-killed wood for renewable fuel production. They include:

  •  The wood is typically located far from urban industrial centers, often in relatively inaccessible areas with challenging topography, which increases harvest and transportation costs.

  • Environmental impacts, social issues and local policy constraints to using beetle-killed wood and other forest residues remain largely unexplored.

CSU researchers, working with scientists from other universities, government and private industry in the region, created the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR) to address these challenges. The project will conduct a comprehensive economic, environmental and social/policy assessment, and integrate research results into a web-based decision support system.

“The project will begin work by the end of 2013, with assessing beetle-kill feedstock availability and how to harvest and process the material in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner, while producing high quality renewable fuels and biochar that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Keith Paustian, BANR Project Director at Colorado State University.

One of the key partners of the BANR is Cool Planet Energy Systems of Greenwood Village, CO. The company specializes in developing small scale bio-refineries for the conversion of non-food biomass into high-octane gasoline. The research will examine the plausibility of using Cool Planet's prototype pyrolysis system can be deployed in close proximity to stands of beetle-killed timber, which would significantly lower costs related to wood harvest and transportation. 

Other BNAR partners include: University of Idaho, University of Montana, Montana State University, University of Wyoming, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and National Renewable Energy Lab. and Cool Planet Energy Systems. More information is available on the project website at

Vilsack used the project's announcement to lobby Congress to "achieve passage of a new, long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible."




About the Author

Rich Christianson

Rich Christianson is Associate Publisher and Editor at Large of Woodworking Network. During his 25+ years covering the wood products industry, Rich has toured hundreds of manufacturing plants throughout North America, Europe and Asia. His reporting has covered everything from the state of the industry and impact of wood imports to technology and environmental issues. In his current capacity he is responsible for editing the daily Woodworking Network Update newsletter and coordinating events including the annual Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo and Canada’s biennial Woodworking Machinery & Supply Expo. He can be contacted at or follow him on Google+.

Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

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