Biofuels

Published on September 15th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

18

Dead Forests to Fuel Vehicles

September 15th, 2009 by  


Here’s a resource we’ll have plenty of as ever wider swathes of our forests get decimated by pests like the Pine Bark Beetle. Dead trees. In an adaptation eerily reminiscent of Thomas Edison’s dictum We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property” a university has invented a technology to harvest one of the horrific effects of climate change.

The University of Georgia Research Foundation has developed an innovative way to turn dead trees into a liquid fuel and has licensed it to Tolero Energy in California. We could be driving on our dead forests as soon as 2010.

The technology represents a leap forward for the biofuels industry. Not only does the resulting biofuel need no additional refinement before blending with diesel fuel, but it is a naturally very low-sulphur biofuel.

And it would prevent additional CO2 from being released if the forest was left to decay.

But the biggest leap is in thinking of using a non-food source (at least for us humans) of biomass that we will have an ever increasing abundance of, as our climate gets worse and worse. And it doesn’t take scarce water resources to grow. Quite the contrary. Droughts and rising temperatures are all it needs.

Dead trees are one of the major sources of waste biomass, says Tolero CEO Chris Churchill.

“Infestations of the mountain pine beetle have devastated forests in the western United States and Canada, killing over 40 million acres of pine trees. As the trees decompose and decay, they release millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and the devastation has created a significant and dangerous fire hazard in the western forests.

“Harvesting dead trees and forest residue and converting them to renewable fuel and soil amendment products will help reduce the CO2 released into the atmosphere and reduce the fire danger. The recent fire in the Los Angeles foothills, which was fueled by years of highly flammable dead biomass build-up, is a prime example of a situation where this technology can be put to use. Tolero has the capability to establish pyrolysis facilities to process the dead underbrush and convert it to a renewable fuel that is easy to transport,” Churchill said.

Lead inventor of the technology is Tom Adams, a retired member of the University of Georgia Faculty of Engineering. Co-inventors are John Goodrum, Manuel Garcia-Perez, Dan Geller and Joshua Pendergrass – all presently or previously associated with the Faculty of Engineering there.

“Fuel produced through this efficient technology, which uses dead biomass as the starting material, holds the promise of being highly economical, carbon-negative and environmentally acceptable,” said Adams, now an engineering consultant.

Tolero will use this low-cost, on-site process to turn waste biomass into sustainable and renewable forms of energy and industrial products. The biomass is heated at carefully controlled high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, a process known as fast pyrolysis. The vapors produced during pyrolysis rapidly condense into a bio-oil that can be added to biodiesel or petroleum diesel. Other pyrolysis by-products are gas and bio-char, which can be used as a soil amendment.

“We are glad that our new business partner, Tolero, will be using biomass waste as starting material for the production of biodiesel,” said Gennaro Gama, senior technology manager charged with the management of University of Georgia’s bioenergy technologies.

“Not only is this approach socially responsible, since it does not employ food crops as the source of biofuels, it also is ecologically sound, as it will open areas to reforestation and at the same time lead to the production of cost-efficient, sulfur-free fuels,” he said.

“This commercialization approach perfectly reflects the social and ecological concerns of UGA’s bioenergy researchers and the research partnership formed with Tolero,” Gama concluded.

If we had not invented the combustion engine, we would not have had the climate change that provides us this fuel byproduct of climate change for more combustion engines.

Kudos to the inventors at the University of Georgia and the biofuel company Tolero. We have been dealt lemons. They are making lemonade.

Image from Flikr user D&J Huber

Via Atlanta Business Chronicle






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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • waltinseattle

    not just pine beetles, not just pines. Maples, Ash, Cyprus, Chestnut are already going going and some already gone long gone. Lying there rotting, or as for Chestnut, not rotting…

    So lets not devise how to shut the barn door and walk away with a smug know it all attitude.

    The point that catches me is the glib “on site” processing statement. These are not your typical location down the street and take a turn on Pine Street locations. These are places like where I have pulled firewood so many years out here in the west. These are Hard to get to places. So I can assure you there will be some CO2 expended getting the on-site plants up and running. Meaning how efficient will they really get to be, compared to dragging the scrap out to the roadhead/trailhead and doing a real closed system? And who owns the digestive organisms? Oh. No digestive organisms, this will be like a producer gas at the first step(a herritage technology); that is, like we all know, very much a cousin of charcoal production.And a few more inconsequentials like this. Though I must say that I really want these sorts of projects to happen!!! really really do!

    It’s just I am to the point I believe in peeking at the potential deviltry in all those details before jumping in all optimistic and…….”gee who could ha thunk….!”

  • waltinseattle

    not just pine beetles, not just pines. Maples, Ash, Cyprus, Chestnut are already going going and some already gone long gone. Lying there rotting, or as for Chestnut, not rotting…

    So lets not devise how to shut the barn door and walk away with a smug know it all attitude.

    The point that catches me is the glib “on site” processing statement. These are not your typical location down the street and take a turn on Pine Street locations. These are places like where I have pulled firewood so many years out here in the west. These are Hard to get to places. So I can assure you there will be some CO2 expended getting the on-site plants up and running. Meaning how efficient will they really get to be, compared to dragging the scrap out to the roadhead/trailhead and doing a real closed system? And who owns the digestive organisms? Oh. No digestive organisms, this will be like a producer gas at the first step(a herritage technology); that is, like we all know, very much a cousin of charcoal production.And a few more inconsequentials like this. Though I must say that I really want these sorts of projects to happen!!! really really do!

    It’s just I am to the point I believe in peeking at the potential deviltry in all those details before jumping in all optimistic and…….”gee who could ha thunk….!”

  • vishnu prasanna

    here the plane which is done is good . i wish to contd the same

  • vishnu prasanna

    here the plane which is done is good . i wish to contd the same

  • Federico

    Interesting use of dead wood, far for being an actual invention, it is just another use of pyrolysis. Two big issues here, one is related to life cycle issues (some of them mentioned above) and secondly about process and ration of pyrolysis gas to fluid is usable and what is the waste stream of this process. This oil has an high level of acidity, which would need to be manage to actually become a good fuel for engines. Bottom line, the whole article reads like a press release, wonder if I Susan has more technical information to share on this matter.

  • Federico

    Interesting use of dead wood, far for being an actual invention, it is just another use of pyrolysis. Two big issues here, one is related to life cycle issues (some of them mentioned above) and secondly about process and ration of pyrolysis gas to fluid is usable and what is the waste stream of this process. This oil has an high level of acidity, which would need to be manage to actually become a good fuel for engines. Bottom line, the whole article reads like a press release, wonder if I Susan has more technical information to share on this matter.

  • Steve

    Sure, we could use the money this brings for reforestation. We could plant new trees in the completely barren soil that we create when we leave no humus left in the soil. California will turn into a desert, mark my words.

  • Steve

    Sure, we could use the money this brings for reforestation. We could plant new trees in the completely barren soil that we create when we leave no humus left in the soil. California will turn into a desert, mark my words.

  • bcenviro

    The pine beetle epidemic is an unstoppable result of temperature changes in North America (deep freezing used to kill enough of the beetles each winter to prevent massive outbreaks, droughts have made the trees more susceptible to attack).

    MD – if there was an economical means to control the MPB, don’t you think governments and private landowners would have done so? Our province has experienced a loss of over 620 million cubic metres of timber since the infestation began. Not only a loss of forestry revenue, dead trees release GHG and in our province MPB is expected to contribute the equivalent of 20% of the total GHG from all the cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes in Canada through 2020 (http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfp/mountain_pine_beetle/facts.htm#infestation)

    Using this dead wood to reduce fossil fuel consumption is clean and could be a source of $$ for reforestation…

  • bcenviro

    The pine beetle epidemic is an unstoppable result of temperature changes in North America (deep freezing used to kill enough of the beetles each winter to prevent massive outbreaks, droughts have made the trees more susceptible to attack).

    MD – if there was an economical means to control the MPB, don’t you think governments and private landowners would have done so? Our province has experienced a loss of over 620 million cubic metres of timber since the infestation began. Not only a loss of forestry revenue, dead trees release GHG and in our province MPB is expected to contribute the equivalent of 20% of the total GHG from all the cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes in Canada through 2020 (http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfp/mountain_pine_beetle/facts.htm#infestation)

    Using this dead wood to reduce fossil fuel consumption is clean and could be a source of $$ for reforestation…

  • Barry

    It’s unclear how this idea is ‘carbon negative.’ Whether a tree decomposes, burns in place, of is converted to biodiesel and then burned, the carbon it contains is released. A clear plan for sustainable forestry management (including reforestation, soil carbon and nutrient management, and techniques for limiting harvest to dead trees without either harvesting or accelerating the demise of relatively healthy species or plots) is necessary, for a start. This technology could very easily become a tempting as a deforestation program.

  • Barry

    It’s unclear how this idea is ‘carbon negative.’ Whether a tree decomposes, burns in place, of is converted to biodiesel and then burned, the carbon it contains is released. A clear plan for sustainable forestry management (including reforestation, soil carbon and nutrient management, and techniques for limiting harvest to dead trees without either harvesting or accelerating the demise of relatively healthy species or plots) is necessary, for a start. This technology could very easily become a tempting as a deforestation program.

  • htl

    no one NEEDS to touch those trees. let them be.

  • htl

    no one NEEDS to touch those trees. let them be.

  • MD

    A common way to prevent these trees from this is to use pheromones… but honestly, before we meddled with keeping forests from burning down there was probably less pine beetles to deal with in the first place.

    Aix – someone needs to get rid of those dead trees, they just sit there and will provide additional fuel for super-fires and they serve as beacons for more beetles, some beetles can detect certain chemicals given off by rotting trees, this is common in dry land sorts with Ambrosia Beetles (Gnathotrichus*).

  • MD

    A common way to prevent these trees from this is to use pheromones… but honestly, before we meddled with keeping forests from burning down there was probably less pine beetles to deal with in the first place.

    Aix – someone needs to get rid of those dead trees, they just sit there and will provide additional fuel for super-fires and they serve as beacons for more beetles, some beetles can detect certain chemicals given off by rotting trees, this is common in dry land sorts with Ambrosia Beetles (Gnathotrichus*).

  • Aix

    Yes, this is a good idea but i would really hope that we wouldn’t really have to depend on this fuel because the point of making everything cleaner and more efficient is so that this kind of stuff will no longer be a concern. eventually if people can depend more on cleaner ways of living there will be less of these dead forests available and more new forests growing.

  • Aix

    Yes, this is a good idea but i would really hope that we wouldn’t really have to depend on this fuel because the point of making everything cleaner and more efficient is so that this kind of stuff will no longer be a concern. eventually if people can depend more on cleaner ways of living there will be less of these dead forests available and more new forests growing.

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