Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

CleanTechnica

Biofuels

Should We Pursue Biofuels From Beetle-killed Wood?

pine-beetle-logsite.jpg

[This is the second half of a story about the pine beetle epidemic in Colorado and what is being done to mitigate its damage. Part one can be found by following this link to sustainablog.]

Residents of Colorado are witnessing a rapid destabilization of the forest around them, and they can do very little to stop it. The spread of the mountain pine beetle epidemic is now considered of ‘catastrophic’ proportion. Most foresters agree that the beetle will essentially run its course by eliminating its favorite food – the lodgepole pine. The most one can hope for is to mitigate fire risk by pursuing aggressive thinning programs. However, thinning forests does not come cheap: it is labor intensive, resource intensive, geo-politically awkward, and the end product is not held in very high regard by the market. But the economic viability of large-scale thinning projects is changing, and it is doing so almost as quickly as the trees themselves are changing from green to red.

This week, several stories hit the newswire that, taken collectively, hint at the growing conditions for a perfect storm for cellulosic ethanol. The ‘virgin’ biofuel industry got a kick in the seat yesterday when a study published in Science confirmed many environmentalists belief that ethanol from corn and switchgrass could actually worsen climate change. The studies paid significantly more attention to the environmental impacts of land-use change, transportation, and fuel-refining (for details on the paper, listen to this very good Science podcast). The take home point? As we pump billions of dollars into agri-fuels we are doing more harm in the short run; a time period where we need to be doing the most good.

Policymakers need to open their eyes and ears to the dangers of investing so heavily in crops for fuel that used to be for food. Thankfully, innovative companies are way ahead of policymakers in the area of clean fuels. CleanTechnica reported yesterday on the unveiling of Coskata’s new biofuel refining technology that turns waste into biofuel, and how the economic climate is shifting towards ethanol.

The cheapest, most logical, and most environmentally friendly way to make ethanol is to do so with waste, not by growing lots of corn. And thanks to the pine beetle epidemic, there is a wealth of small-diameter waste-wood in the Rocky Mountain West looking for a home.

beetle-range-final-crop.jpgTaking a lesson from our neighbors to the North, the Department of Energy announced Tuesday that it would pay $30 million towards the construction of Colorado’s first cellulosic ethanol plant. The plant will use a technology that will convert beetle kill into ethanol. A technology that has been developed and tested in British Columbia, which has its own problems with pine beetles.

In addition to ethanol fuel, the Colorado plant will produce lignin as a byproduct, which is a useful ingredient in lubricants and other goods. This, combined with the sellable fuel, will pump money into the system to help pay for the forest-thinning programs that help control the beetle problem.

Not Just Liquid Fuels

Community Energy Systems LLC (CES) specializes in small scale biomass energy projects in the Western US. The company’s business models create layers of opportunity for local ownership, investment and management of biomass projects. CES’ newest project is the first of many with a rural electric association in northern Colorado. The project was the benefactor of a USDA Woody Biomass Grant for the design and development of a combined heat/power plant on a site adjacent to a sawmill in Walden, CO. With 11 of Colorado’s 22 REA’s located in areas hard hit by the recent pine bark beetle epidemics, the development of biomass projects has enormous implications for the health of the forests and rural communities.

Is all of this too good to be true? Some would argue yes. Not everyone agrees that the ecological impacts of large-thinning of forests is not the answer, and some groups will argue that we should do nothing. For most of those who live in an amongst the pinebeetle scourge, doing nothing is a very scary option, if an option at all. In part III I will address these and other political implications of Colorado’s pine beetle epidemic.

Sources:

International Herald Tribune

USDA 2008 Woody Biomass Grants

The Denver Post

Rocky Mountain News

Images:

(Photo)Canadian Forest Service

(Map)Colorado Cooperative Extension

 
 
Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
 
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

New Podcast: Cruise Talks Autonomous Driving Tech, Regulations, & Auto Design

New Podcast: Battery Mineral Mining Policies & Regional Trends

Written By

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.

Comments

#1 most loved electric vehicle, solar energy, and battery news & analysis site in the world.

 

Support our work today!

Advertisement

Power CleanTechnica: $3/Month

Tesla News Solar News EV News Data Reports

Advertisement

EV Sales Charts, Graphs, & Stats

Advertisement

Our Electric Car Driver Report

30 Electric Car Benefits

Tesla Model 3 Video

Renewable Energy 101 In Depth

solar power facts

Tesla News

EV Reviews

Home Efficiency

You May Also Like

Clean Transport

In the market for an ambulance? How about an electric one!

Batteries

Back in September 2020, Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company (GREC) acquired the Rawhide Prairie Solar Storage project in Larimer County, Colorado. Solar Power World reports...

Clean Transport

The 37-member CHARGE coalition has called on the Biden administration to electrify public transit and expand EV charging infrastructure with a focus on communities...

Clean Power

Green energy gets a green makeover when new solar farm combines farming with solar panels and community benefits, too.

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.