Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, but Biofuel Does

The University of Maryland and Bowie State University have received a $3.2 million grant from teh National Science Foundation to develop poplars for biofuelThe poplar tree has entered the crowded field of sustainable biofuel crops, and now it seems that China, Israel and the U.S. are racing to tap into its potential.  Poplars have a couple of big advantages over conventional biofuel crops, especially food crops like soy and corn.  For one thing, raising poplars is potentially more fuel efficient and generates a lower carbon footprint than annual food crops.  Depending on the growing conditions poplars don’t need as much pest control or soil enhancement, and they don’t necessarily need to be harvested each year – cut them back and they just keep growing.  Also, a  properly managed biofuel woodland can be part of a viable wildlife habitat, and could potentially coexist with human populations or recreation areas.


One roadblock is the slow growth rate of poplars relative to nonfood biofuel darlings like crambe and camlina.  That may not be a factor much longer.  Last fall an Israel-China research partnership was formed to develop new poplar variants for biofuel production in China.  And here in the U.S., the National Science Foundation has just announced a $3.2 million grant for the University of Maryland and Bowie State University to create new high-yield poplars for biofuel.

Poplar Trees and Biofuel

Though poplars are slowpokes when compared to annual biofuel crops, they are actually fast-growing compared to other trees.  They’ve been a subject of intense interest among biofuel researchers for several years now.  Researchers have already solved one conundrum by developing cost effective ways to break down cellulose.  That means woody crops like trees or weeds like switchgrass can compete with “soft” biofuel crops like corn or soy.  The U.S. team will focus its NSF grant on studying the poplar’s nitrogen cycle in order to speed up growth.  Meanwhile, FuturaGene of Israel has partnered with the Chinese Academy of Forestry to develop strains of drought resistant, salt tolerant poplars.

Poplars and Brownfields

The development of nonfood biofuel crops dovetails with the EPA’s new program to reclaim brownfields for renewable energy production, called RE-Powering America’s Land.  The program builds on the success of existing reclamation projects, some of which use “green remediation” methods that deploy low cost, on site processes rather than digging out contaminated soil and dumping it elsewhere.  One of these methods is phytoremediation, in which plants are used to clean up pollution, and the EPA has found that poplars can not only neutralize contaminants but even thrive on polluted sites.

Image: Poplar trees by Sids 1 on

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


You May Also Like

Climate Change

Four more years of high-resolution imagery data have been released to show the polar regions in stunning detail, thanks to a hard-working team of...


New federal incentives can help communities repurpose brownfields into brightfields, high-value sites that support a more equitable, clean energy economy. To speed this transition...

Clean Power

In-road, wireless EV charging is one way to make electric vehicles more affordable and avert the impending EV charging apocalypse.


Sodium metal anode resists dendrite formation Originally published by National Science Foundation Replacing lithium and cobalt in lithium-ion batteries would result in a more...

Copyright © 2023 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.