The University of Idaho is among a group of research partners, led by Colorado State University, who have been awarded nearly $10 million in USDA grant funds to study how to convert insect-killed trees into an advanced liquid biofuel, right on-site in the forests. The project would explore “recent advances in scalable thermochemical conversion technologies,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an announcement today. The hope is that this kind of processing of beetle-killed trees could generate highly usable biofuel, while avoiding the harvest and transportation costs otherwise present in salvaging the logs.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “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 beetles on our forest lands. 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.”
He also took the opportunity to note that the research effort, made possible by a provision of the 2008 Farm Bill, points up the “critical need” for passage of a new farm bill this year, something that’s been stalled in Congress. “I urge Congress to achieve passage of a new, long term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible,” Vilsack said.
The research project also includes the University of Montana, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming; it’s led by Colorado State’s Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies. The grant, which covers five years of research, comes under a program for research that contributes to reducing dependence on foreign oil, has net positive social, environmental and rural economic impacts, and is compatible with existing agricultural and forest production systems.