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Pine plantations studied for bioenergy

Jan. 28, 2011, Athens, GA – Researchers at the University of Georgia will be experimenting with pine tree plantations for potential use in biofuel production.


January 28, 2011
By Sandi Martin | University of Georgia

Jan. 28, 2011, Athens, GA – Researchers at
the University of Georgia will be experimenting with pine tree plantations for
potential use in biofuel production. Funded by an $880,000 grant from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the
project also could result in key findings for research on carbon sequestration,
a process whereby trees capture excess carbon dioxide before it enters the
atmosphere.

Professors from the university’s Warnell
School of Forestry and Natural Resources plan to experiment with different ways
of planting pines to get the greatest biofuel production. The scientists think
there is potential for using pines for production of liquid fuels and for
generating electricity, says Daniel Markewitz, an associate professor who is
working with professors Michael Kane and Robert Teskey and assistant research
scientist Dehai Zhao. They want to know how to optimize pine plantation growth
for biofuel. Markewitz says the team plans to focus on the environmental balance
required for such production, not only on how to simultaneously grow timber and
biofuels without degrading soil and water quality, but also to discover what
happens to the carbon contained in the soil when the trees are harvested.

The project will not examine the economics
of using trees for biofuels, but will instead focus on quality growth methods
and environmental impacts. Markewitz plans to study the amount of carbon being
stored underground by trees and what happens when those trees are harvested. Depending
on what he finds, the project could have implications for carbon sequestration
research, which is an important part of biofuel production. Kane will focus on
the aboveground components, including tree dimensions such as height, diameter,
and branching, as well as biofuel and timber biomass. Teskey intends to
research the biology of the tree growth, i.e., what happens to the trees the
closer they are planted together and how efficiently they capture solar energy.
Zhao will provide an integrative life cycle carbon analysis, modelling above-
and belowground carbon accumulation and losses of carbon due to forest
management activities to identify the benefits of pine biofuels for reducing
carbon loss to the atmosphere.

The project will span multiple locations
across the U.S. Southeast, including central and south Georgia, north Florida,
and the coast of South Carolina. The team intends to study existing pine
plantations with trees planted at increasingly thicker densities, beginning
with 600 trees/acre up to 1,800 trees/acre. Markewitz says the five-year
project will help them devise more efficient ways of planting and harvesting
the pine stands, such as systems in which some closely spaced tree rows are
thinned out earlier for biofuel use while other widely spaced tree rows
continue to grow for later timber harvest.

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