$10 Million Taxpayer Money to Convert Beetle-Killed Trees to Biofuel

$10 Million Taxpayer Money to Convert Beetle-Killed Trees to Biofuel

- by Ashley Sanchez, November 6, 2013, Source: ABC Fox Montana

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"134","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 300px; height: 197px; margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px; float: left;"}}]]The University of Montana is awarded part of a $10 million grant to find ways to turn beetle-killed trees into biofuel.

Pine beetle infestations have impacted more than 42 million acres of U.S. forests for more than a decade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Now officials said they think there could be a way to put pine beetle-killed trees and other forest residue to use.

"A lot of times we think of things left behind in the woods as waste, but much of it can be used for our benefit," said Jim Burchfield, Dean of the College of Forestry and Conservation.

The USDA announced on Wednesday, it's awarding $10 million dollars to a group of organizations looking to study the major challenges in using insect-killed trees for energy production at biomass burning facilities.

"The carbon that's stored in trees gets re-circulated through the atmosphere, and if we can use that type of energy instead of other types of energy, that helps our carbon foot print," Burchfield said.

UM will get more than $1 million of the grant over five years to help study issues related to using forest waste in biofuel production.

"A key aspect is economic contributions to energy production," Burchfield said. 

Burchfield said while there are many advantages to using beetle kill for renewable fuel production, there are also barriers. USDA officials said the wood is often located in areas far from urban industrial centers, often in areas that are hard to reach.

"It costs to be able to move material from the forest to an energy facility, so he is going to be looking at different levels of efficiency," Burchfield said.

UM will mainly look at the economic impacts of the project. A UM forestry professor and his research team will look at costs, machine productivity, and other factors in getting forest residue to a biofuel facility.

"This way we can use it for energy and create jobs for people to be able to move that material into energy production facilities," Burchfield said.

UM is collaborating with partners across four states to complete the project. For more information, you can visit the partnership's website.