Beetle-Kill Trees to Dollar Bills: Bennet Welcomes USDA Research Grant

Research - led by CSU using technology from a CO company - will explore ways to convert beetle-kill trees into renewable energy

This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it will invest $10 million for research into converting beetle-kill trees in the Rockies into renewable energy. The research will be led by Colorado State University and will include technology developed by Cool Planet Energy Systems, a renewable energy company based in Greenwood Village, Colo.

“This is great news for our state, which has seen first-hand the devastation and destruction that bark beetle infestations bring,” Bennet said. “The USDA’s grant, which will be led by CSU and driven by technology developed by a renewable energy company based right here in Colorado, goes to show how our state is a leader in tackling these challenging issues with innovative solutions. At the same time, we are also helping build a cleaner energy portfolio that will create twenty-first century jobs.”

“These important research resources – a key part of the Farm Bill – are yet another reminder of why we need to pass a full, five-year Farm Bill quickly,” Bennet added.

The USDA’s announcement comes on the heels of a Senate Subcommittee hearing Bennet chaired yesterday highlighting the need to allocate mitigation resources up-front to prevent the risk of destructive wildfires and reduce the costs of fighting them in the long run.

Earlier this year, Bennet, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources, introduced a measure to prioritize the treatment of beetle-kill forest land. He was successful in including that provision as part of the 2013 Farm Bill that passed the Senate in June.

Bennet is a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, which is currently negotiating the differences between the House and Senate Farm Bills to come up with one final version.

Background info on the grant:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: “Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted over 42 million acres of U.S. forests since 1996, and a changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetle on our forest lands. As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, 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. This is yet another reminder of the critical investments provided by the Farm Bill for agricultural research, and I urge Congress to achieve passage of a new, long term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.”

CSU will collaborate with the following partners to complete the project: the University of Idaho, the University of Montana, Montana State University, the University of Wyoming, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, National Renewable Energy Lab, and Cool Planet Energy Systems.

Specifically, the team will explore recent advances in scalable thermochemical conversion technologies, which enable the production of advanced liquid biofuel and co-products on-site.

A prototype pyrolysis system developed by Cool Planet Energy Systems, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., can be tailored to the amount of feedstock available and thus can be deployed in close proximity to stands of beetle-killed timber. This localized production leads to significantly lower costs related to wood harvest and transportation.  Their distributed scalable biorefinery approach is a key element in making the use of insect-damaged trees as feedstock plausible.

The award, provided under the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), is part of USDA’s effort to develop modern solutions for climate challenges in agriculture and natural resource management. AFRI is a key provision of the Farm Bill.