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Nov 07, 2013 12:29 PM EST

USDA Gives Colorado State University $10 Million To Convert Beetle-Killed Trees into Renewable Energy

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a $10 million grant to a consortium of academic, industry and government organizations led by Colorado State University to develop modern solutions for climate challenges in agriculture and natural resource management.

The grant, provided under the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a 2008 Farm Bill program, will enable the university to study the prospect of using insect-killed trees in a major mountain range in The Rocky Mountains, Western North America, as a sustainable feedstock for bioenergy, according to a press release.

Infestations of trees have impacted over 42 million acres of forests in the since 1996, a changing climate threatens to expand the threat, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"This innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America," he said in a statement.

The university will collaborate with the University of Idaho, University of Montana, Montana State University, and the University of Wyoming; U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; National Renewable Energy Lab, and Cool Planet Energy Systems.

The project will undertake comprehensive economic, environmental and social/policy assessment, and integrate research results into a web-based, user-friendly decision support system.

According to a press release, there are many benefits to using beetle-killed wood for renewable fuel production as it requires no cultivation and likely has a highly favorable carbon balance.

There are some challenges that have limited the use of insect-killed trees as a sustainable feedstock for bio energy. Barriers include location, these infested trees are typically located far from urban industrial centers, often in relatively inaccessible areas with challenging topography, which increases harvest and transportation costs.

In addition to technical barriers, environmental impacts, social issues and local policy constraints to using beetle-kill wood and other forest residues remain largely unexplored.

"Many of our western forests could benefit from treatments to restore their capacity to absorb and recover from disturbances, but a limiting factor is the economics," Tony Cheng, professor of Forestry and BANR team member, said in a statement. "Developing economically viable uses of wood while restoring forest resilience is a real, pressing need."

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