GE Poplars for Biofuels: OSU Cooperating with Greenwood Resources

Note: As you can see from the article below, the GE tree industry is hell-bent on moving forward with producing millions of their potentially disastrous GE tree clones.  They seem to have no concern for the ramifications these trees will have on forest ecosystems, wildlife and forest-dependent communities.  There is a lot of misinformation in the article below.  For the facts about GE trees and wood-based biofuels, see our website: nogetrees.org

Why is GE tree proponent Steve Strauss stating in the article below that GE trees are 10 years away from reality?  He knows perfectly well that GE tree company ArborGen is moving forward with their request for permission to sell their GE eucalyptus tree clones commercially.  What is he trying to hide?

But GE trees are not only a threat here in the US.  ArborGen and several timber companies are trying to advance GE trees in Brazil, New Zealand, Europe and elsewhere. It is for this reason that Global Justice Ecology Project is leading the global campaign against GE trees, with around 245 organizations in 46 countries supporting our call for a global ban on the release of GE trees into the environment.  

Please support the STOP GE Trees Campaign with a gift today.

 


Greenwood Resources positions poplars for biofuel

By Sean Meyers, Thursday, November 17, 2011

Greenwood Resources, along with researchers at Oregon State University, is at the forefront of next-generation biofuels research.

What may be Oregon’s most sustainable – and surreal – forest is a major beneficiary of two $40 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to Northwest universities for biofuel research and development.

Portland-based Greenwood Resources Inc. operates the country’s largest irrigated tree farm at Boardman in northeast Oregon’s Morrow County. The farm has about 7.5 million hybrid poplar and alder trees on 25,000 acres.

The ambitious trees reach a harvest height of 110 feet in just 12 years, creating a bizarre sight and a unique ecosystem in the flat, sagebrush-studded desert of the Columbia Plateau. The second-tallest irrigated crop in the area is corn, which tops out at about eight feet.

The forest is a haven for area wildlife, including seven threatened, endangered and critically endangered species. It’s also home to many not-so-endangered species, such as about 600 deer, which find tree seedlings to be highly suitable grazing materials.

All of which suits Greenwood just fine.

“Balancing sustainability with profits is a part of everything that we do,” said Don Rice, Greenwood’s director of resource management.

Ten percent of the farm’s acreage is devoted to wildlife projects. Greenwood works with the Nature Conservancy to protect native grassland habitat, monitors burrowing owl habitats and maintains hundreds of boxes for saw whet owls.

The tree farm is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in part for its futuristic sustainable design. Its sawmill sits in the middle of the farm, so the average tree has to travel only three to four miles for processing, mostly on roads that Greenwood owns.

Once the trees are processed into lumber, pulp and biofuel materials, they have just another nine miles to travel to the Port of Morrow for loading on Columbia River barges, which are the most fuel-efficient option for moving timber. Cut lumber is dried at a port facility that uses left-over hot water produced by Portland General Electric’s nearby gas-fired plant.

Highly sustainable, but not always highly profitable. Boise Cascade and Potlatch are among the former owners who have bought and sold the 21-year-old experimental forest. Greenwood took the baton in 2007.

To tip the profitability scale, Greenwood and Oregon State University researchers are constantly on the lookout for better trees. The USDA grant will help develop hybrids and cultivation methods better suited for biofuel, said Rice.

The grants, mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill, is intended to stimulate rural economies and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by developing and improving non-food domestic biofuel production.

Greenwood business partner ZeaChem Inc. received $12 million of one of the grants to develop infrastructure to make aviation fuel in a project headed by University of Washington. OSU is receiving a $9.8 million slice focused on research and education, much of which will be targeted to helping Greenwood and other biofuel-related companies succeed.

At Greenwood, they’ll be seeking hybrid poplars with higher yields and density, straighter trunks, shorter rotations, better wind resistance and improved insect and disease resistance. They’ll also be experimenting with cover cropping and intercropping young trees between more mature trees for use as fodder for biofuel.

“The grants are very exciting, but I have to admit that I haven’t fully processed what it is all going to mean,” said Luke Maynard, Greenwood’s Pacific Northwest plantation operations manager.

Greenwood’s hybrid poplars use about the same amount of irrigation as the corn and potatoes that are widely grown in the region.

“What we could really use is a tree that could be grown on marginal or non-irrigated lands,” Maynard said. The area typically receives only six to eight inches of annual rainfall.

The grant will also fund research to improve transportation of forest residues – woody biomass – from western Oregon softwood forests to biofuel processing locations, said John Sessions, an OSU forrestry professor who specializes in strategic planning.

“People in the industry tell us that even if these forest residues are free, transportation costs account for more than half of the total cost of production of biofuel,” said Sessions.

Costs may be reduced by finding ways to make loads denser or by designing larger or better rigs to extract the forest residues, he said.

OSU forest biotechnology professor Steve Strauss received a grant of $577,000 to study ways to prevent genetically engineered trees from contaminating wild forests. Genetically engineered trees could improve profitability and reduce ecological impacts of producing biofuels. Corn has been genetically engineered to include an enzyme that helps break the plant down for easier ethanol production. The same might be possible for hybrid poplars, he said.

“This is unusual in that it’s a five-year grant. Most USDA grants are for two or three years,” said Strauss.

The longer term is helpful because it allows for better evaluation of the trees, he said.

Genetically engineered trees are not in use today and probably won’t be for at least 10 years, said Strauss. The experiment will be conducted under tightly controlled conditions at Corvallis. Because Greenwood is FSC-certified, no genetically altered trees can be grown at the Boardman location.

“We still have to address public concerns about the social, ethical and ecological concerns about genetically engineered trees,” said Strauss.

[Note: funny that Strauss is now so “concerned” given the fact that he is simultaneous lobbying the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to eliminate regulations on GE tree development]

print