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Posts tagged: bioenergy

A Giant Crop-Scanner Is Turning Heads in Arizona

A giant electronic scanner in Maricopa, Arizona

ARS scientists and their partners are using a giant electronic scanner in Maricopa, Arizona to study the growth characteristics of sorghum plants as part of a project designed to speed biofuel crop development. Photo by Jeffrey White, Agricultural Research Service.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

With its 30-ton frame and 50-foot-high catwalk, the newest scanner for measuring crop plants in Maricopa, Arizona, can be seen for miles. It looms over a tract the length of two football fields and moves along steel rails.

“When people saw this big apparatus being built here, they started asking if we were going to be looking for space aliens,” says Jeffrey W. White, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist with the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa. Rather than studying the heavens, the scanner is measuring the individual characteristics of thousands of energy sorghum plants growing underneath it. The effort could play an outsized role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs. Read more »

Tribal partnerships fuel sustainable aviation

Residual forest materials are collected from tribal forestland for use in aviation biofuel production.  (Image courtesy of NARA)

Residual forest materials are collected from tribal forestland for use in aviation biofuel production. (Image courtesy of NARA)

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

Alaska Airlines will conduct a demonstration flight in 2016 using 1,000 gallons of jet fuel made from forest scraps. 

The aviation biofuel was derived from twigs and small branches that would otherwise have been burned in slash piles after timber harvest. These forest residuals were provided by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe via the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance Tribal Partnership Program (NARA TPP).  TPP and other NARA partnerships are made possible by a $39.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).   Read more »

Fueling our Future, from Wood to Wing

A $39.6 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is helping turn forest byproducts into biofuel.  (Courtesy of NARA)

A $39.6 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is helping turn forest byproducts into biofuel. (Courtesy of NARA)

U.S. airline carriers collectively used more than 16 billion gallons of jet fuel in 2014. Given growing concerns over energy independence and the environment, commercial airlines are looking for secure and reliable alternative jet fuels that reduce global emissions.

To address this problem, researchers at Washington State University formed the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) with biofuels company Gevo, Alaska Airlines, and several other partners across academia, industry, and government. As a result of NARA’s efforts, made possible by a $39.6 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Alaska Airlines is planning to use 1,000 gallons of NARA-produced biofuel in a demonstration flight scheduled for 2016. Read more »

Bioenergy, Bioproducts Education Program Builds Student Confidence, Equips Educators

Morina Ricablanca

Morina Ricablanca teaches bioenergy and other subjects to special needs students at East Hoke Middle School in North Carolina. (Image courtesy of Morina Ricablanca)

Being an educator is in Morina Ricablanca’s blood. Growing up in a family of teachers in the Philippines, she knew she would someday pursue a career in education. Ricablanca participated in an outreach program assisting troubled youth while attending Manuel L. Quezon University Law School in Manila. She realized then it was time to join the family business of teaching.

Her decision has led her to a successful career working with special needs students at East Hoke Middle School in rural North Carolina. Ricablanca was named the “2014 Teacher of the Year” for her school district, partly due to her work helping three of her students win the school’s science fair. Read more »

Study Finds Increasing Wood Pellet Demand Boosts Forest Growth, Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Creates Jobs

A truck is filled with wood chips.

A truck is filled with wood chips as part of the process of turning wood into energy.

An industry that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase forest growth, and create jobs sounds too good to be true.  But that is the reality of the emerging wood pellets market in the Southern U.S.  That conclusion is supported by independent economic assessments of wood bioenergy, including a recent study that specifically focused on European pellet demand conducted by researchers at Duke and North Carolina State Universities.  Those researchers found that increasing demand for wood pellets resulted in more forest area, more forest investment, large greenhouse gas reductions, and little change in forest carbon inventories.

So, why is there concern?

Some critics have recently argued that land used to produce biomass for energy should instead be permanently protected as forests. They say that harvesting biomass from forests reduces forest carbon stocks. Instead, they claim that the best way to increase carbon storage is to reduce demand for renewable products that come from the land. Read more »

Transferring Dead Trees from Source of Wildfire Fuel to Biofuel

Mountain lake with pine beetle damaged forest

Researchers are harvesting beetle-killed trees in the Rocky Mountain region for use as feedstock for biofuel. (iStock image)

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Trees killed by bark beetles have, for years, been a source of fuel for forest fires.  Now, those very trees are being turned into biofuel and biobased products.

This vast bioenergy resource—approximately 46 million acres—requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. The problem, however, is that beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas, which means transportation costs are a key barrier to widespread utilization of this vast resource. Read more »