Doe Science news source
The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-11-15 12:05:46
  • Article ID: 685267

Are Petite Poplars the Future of Biofuels? UW Studies Say Yes

  • Credit: Chang Dou/University of Washington

    Woodchips and leaves from young poplar trees.

  • Credit: Chang Dou/University of Washington

    Bio oil, shown in this photo, was produced by heating poplar to extreme temperatures.

 

Posted with photos, video: http://www.washington.edu/news/2017/11/15/are-petite-poplars-the-future-of-biofuels-uw-studies-say-yes/

FROM: Michelle Ma

University of Washington

206-543-2580

mcma@uw.edu

(NOTE: researcher contact information at end)

For Immediate Release

Nov. 15, 2017

Are petite poplars the future of biofuels? UW studies say yes

 

In the quest to produce affordable biofuels, poplar trees are one of the Pacific Northwest's best bets — the trees are abundant, fast-growing, adaptable to many terrains and their wood can be transformed into substances used in biofuel and high-value chemicals that we rely on in our daily lives.

            But even as researchers test poplars' potential to morph into everything from ethanol to chemicals in cosmetics and detergents, a commercial-scale processing plant for poplars has yet to be achieved. This is mainly because production costs still are not competitive with the current price of oil.

            A University of Washington team is trying to make poplar a viable competitor by testing the production of younger poplar trees that could be harvested more frequently — after only two or three years — instead of the usual 10- to 20-year cycle. These trees, essentially juveniles compared with fully grown adults, are planted closer together and cut in such a way that more branches sprout up from the stump after each harvest, using the same root systems for up to 20 years. This method is called "coppicing," and the trees are known as poplar coppice.      

The team is the first to try converting the entire young tree — including leaves, bark and stems — into bio oil, a biologically derived oil product, and ethanol using two separate processes. Their results, published this summer in two papers — one in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering and the other in Biotechnology for Biofuels — point to a promising future for using poplar coppice for biofuel.

            "Our research proved that poplar coppice can be a good option to meet the cheap, high-volume criteria of biofuel feedstock," said lead author Chang Dou on both papers, a doctoral student in the UW's Bioresource Science and Engineering program. "Our findings are significant for the future biofuel industry, and the ultimate goal is to make poplar coppice biofuel a step closer to the pump."

            Poplar woodchips from older trees have been the focus of most research, mainly because wood parts contain the highest concentration of sugar, which is important for making ethanol and chemicals. Earlier studies show that poplar woodchips are a viable biofuel source, but costs still don't pencil out, especially since trees are cut just once every 10-plus years. Additionally, other tree parts go to waste when only the trunk is used, making the process more inefficient and wasteful.

However, if poplar were planted close together like an agriculture crop, and whole trees were harvested on a much quicker cycle, it could make sense from a cost perspective and offer a short return on investment — and be more attractive for farmers.

Alternative fuels must make economic sense, the researchers stress, for biofuels to make a dent in the petroleum-driven market.

            "We have the environmental incentives to produce fuels and chemicals from renewable resources, but right now, they aren't enough to compete with low oil prices. That's the problem," said Renata Bura, a UW associate professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and the senior author.

            Bura's research is part of the Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest project funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The project, directed by UW professor Rick Gustafson, is a consortium of universities and industries led by the UW whose goal is to lay the foundation for a Pacific Northwest biofuels and bio-based industry based on poplar feedstock. For this study, trees in Jefferson, Oregon — one of the four study sites — were planted in rows close together in spring of 2012 and harvested less than two years later before the leaves had fallen.

            The UW team first tested whether entire young poplar trees could be converted into sugar by a process that uses high temperature, pressure and enzymes to break down the wood materials into sugar. From there, it is possible to make ethanol, acetic acid, lactic acid and other valuable chemicals by fermenting the sugar.

After processing the trees, the researchers found that leaves are poor performers and lowered the overall sugar output, not just because leaves are naturally low in sugar, but they also contain other chemicals that impede the sugar-releasing process. When scaled up to a commercial operation, leaves should be removed and may be used for other purposes, such as feed for animals.

            They also tested whole poplar trees from the same plot in another conversion process that uses much higher heat — upwards of 500 degrees Celsius — to transform the tree materials directly to bio oil in a process called "pyrolysis." Research is underway to convert this dark brown oil to a transportation fuel that resembles gasoline or diesel.

In the experiment, the researchers found that including leaves didn't make a big difference to the quality of the resulting bio oil. When scaled up, producers could ultimately save time and money by not separating leaves from branches to achieve similar quality oil.

            Future poplar production plants could leverage both methods, weighing factors like the current cost of materials or the dollar value of the products being made to determine which method makes more financial sense, Dou explained.

            The young poplars used in the study have similar properties to shoots that would sprout from a stump in a true coppicing operation. Using that cutting method, it is possible to harvest trees every two years for up to 20 years without the added effort and cost of pulling up roots, preparing the soil and planting new trees that is required in usual planting regimes.

             Ultimately, the researchers say that coppice poplar is likely the best balance of cost and reliability for Pacific Northwest growers to produce biofuel.

            "Currently, we are looking at how we can grow poplar for monetized ecosystem services," Bura said. "In the future, we envision a bio-based industry that will provide multiple environmental benefits, will invigorate rural communities and will serve as a bridge to a fully developed biofuels industry."

Other co-authors on the papers are Fernando Resende, a UW assistant professor of environmental and forest sciences; Devin Chandler, a UW graduate student in the Bioresource Science and Engineering program; Wilian Marcondes, a UW exchange student from the University of São Paulo-Brazil; and Jessica Djaja, a UW undergraduate student.

            The research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

 

###

 

For more information, contact Bura at renatab@uw.edu and Dou at changdou@uw.edu.

 

Grant information:

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2011-68005-30407

X
X
X
  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

How a Molecular Signal Helps Plant Cells Decide When to Make Oil

Scientists identify new details of how a sugar-signaling molecule helps regulate oil production in plant cells. The work could point to new ways to engineer plants to produce substantial amounts of oil for use as biofuels or in the production of other oil-based products.

Neutrons Produce First Direct 3D Maps of Water During Cell Membrane Fusion

New 3D maps of water distribution during cellular membrane fusion could lead to new treatments for diseases associated with cell fusion. Using neutron diffraction at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scientists made the first direct observations of water in lipid bilayers modeling cell membrane fusion.

Chemists Demonstrate Sustainable Approach to Carbon Dioxide Capture From Air

Chemists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a practical, energy-efficient method of capturing carbon dioxide directly from air. If deployed at large scale and coupled to geologic storage, the technique may bolster the portfolio of responses to global climate change.

Nucleation a boon to sustainable nanomanufacturing

Young-Shin Jun, professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and Quingun Li, a former doctoral student in her lab, are the first to measure the activation energy and kinetic factors of calcium carbonate's nucleation, both key to predicting and controlling the process.

Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Argonne scientists and their collaborators have developed a new model that merges basic electrochemical theory with theories used in different contexts, such as the study of photoelectrochemistry and semiconductor physics, to describe phenomena that occur in any electrode.

A prize-winning measurement device could aid a wide range of industries

Companies dealing with liquids ranging from wastewater to molten metals could benefit from a prize-winning device developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Princeton University.

After 150 years, a Breakthrough in Understanding the Conversion of CO2 to Electrofuels

Using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, Columbia Engineers are first to observe how CO2 is activated at the electrode-electrolyte interface; their finding shifts the catalyst design from trial-and-error paradigm to a rational approach and could lead to alternative, cheaper, and safer renewable energy storage.

Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

X-Rays Uncover a Hidden Property That Leads to Failure in a Lithium-Ion Battery Material

X-ray experiments at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have revealed that the pathways lithium ions take through a common battery material are more complex than previously thought.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Berkeley Lab to Build an Advanced Quantum Computing Testbed

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will receive $30 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy to build and operate an Advanced Quantum Testbed (AQT) allowing researchers to explore superconducting quantum processors to advance scientific research

Cheng wins Midwest Energy News' 40 Under 40 Award

Lei Cheng, an assistant chemist in the Materials Science division at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, has received a Midwest Energy News 40 Under 40 Award.

JCESR renewed for another five years

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced its decision to renew the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub led by Argonne National Laboratory and focused on advancing battery science and technology.

Binghamton designated as NextFlex New York Node for flexible hybrid electronics initiative

NextFlex has designated Binghamton University to be the New York "Node" for its flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) initiative. As the NextFlex New York Node, Binghamton will design, develop and manufacture tools; process materials and products for flexible hybrid electronics; and attract, train and employ an advanced manufacturing workforce, building on the region's existing electronics manufacturing base.

First Particle Tracks Seen in Prototype for International Neutrino Experiment

The largest liquid-argon neutrino detector in the world has just recorded its first particle tracks, signaling the start of a new chapter in the story of the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). DUNE's scientific mission is dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of neutrinos, the most abundant (and most mysterious) matter particles in the universe.

Tais Gorkhover Wins LCLS Young Investigator Award for Pioneering Novel X-ray Imaging Methods

Tais Gorkhover, a principal investigator with the Stanford PULSE Institute, will receive the 2018 LCLS Young Investigator Award, granted to early-career scientists in recognition of exceptional research using the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

ORNL, United Kingdom Lab Partner on Nuclear Energy Research

The United Kingdom's National Nuclear Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have agreed to cooperate on a wide range of nuclear energy research and development efforts that leverage both organizations' unique expertise and capabilities.

Nat Fisch receives Fusion Power Associates' Distinguished Career Award

Feature describes lifetime career award for PPPL physicist and professor Nat Fisch.

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator Expands Focus to Include the Food-Water-Energy Interconnection

The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), a technology incubator and platform funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is expanding its program to advance technologies that address the interconnection of food, water and energy.

Graham George receives Lytle Award for contributions to X-ray absorption spectroscopy

Graham Neil George, professor and Canada Research Chair in X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS) at the University of Saskatchewan, has been chosen to receive the 2018 Farrel W. Lytle Award for his outstanding contributions to synchrotron science at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

Seeing Between the Atoms

New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.

New Electron Glasses Sharpen Our View of Atomic-Scale Features

A new approach to atom probe tomography promises more precise and accurate measurements vital to semiconductors used in computers, lasers, detectors, and more.

Getting an Up-Close, 3-D View of Gold Nanostars

Scientists can now measure 3-D structures of tiny particles with properties that hold promise for advanced sensors and diagnostics.

Small, Short-Lived Drops of Early Universe Matter

Particle flow patterns suggest even small-scale collisions create drops of early universe quark-gluon plasma.

Tuning Terahertz Beams with Nanoparticles

Scientists uncover a way to control terahertz radiation using tiny engineered particles in a magnetic field, potentially opening the doors for better medical and environmental sensors.


Spotlight

Friday September 21, 2018, 01:05 PM

"Model" students enjoy Argonne campus life

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 06, 2018, 01:05 PM

Writing Code for a More Skilled and Diverse STEM Workforce

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday September 04, 2018, 11:30 AM

New graduate student summer school launches at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Friday August 31, 2018, 06:05 PM

The Gridlock State

California State University (CSU) Chancellor's Office

Friday August 31, 2018, 02:05 PM

Meet Jasmine Hatcher and Trishelle Copeland-Johnson

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Friday August 24, 2018, 11:05 AM

Argonne hosts Modeling, Experimentation and Validation Summer School

Argonne National Laboratory

Wednesday August 22, 2018, 01:05 PM

Students affected by Hurricane Maria bring their research to SLAC

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Wednesday August 22, 2018, 10:05 AM

Brookhaven Lab Pays Tribute to 2018 Summer Interns

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Monday August 20, 2018, 12:05 PM

Changing How Buildings Are Made

Washington University in St. Louis

Thursday August 16, 2018, 12:05 PM

CSUMB Selected to Host Architecture at Zero Competition in 2019

California State University, Monterey Bay

Friday July 20, 2018, 03:00 PM

Department of Energy Invests $64 Million in Advanced Nuclear Technology

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday July 19, 2018, 05:00 PM

Professor Miao Yu Named the Priti and Mukesh Chatter '82 Career Development Professor

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday July 03, 2018, 11:05 AM

2018 RHIC & AGS Annual Users' Meeting: 'Illuminating the QCD Landscape'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Friday June 29, 2018, 06:05 PM

Argonne welcomes The Martian author Andy Weir

Argonne National Laboratory

Monday June 18, 2018, 09:55 AM

Creating STEM Knowledge and Innovations to Solve Global Issues Like Water, Food, and Energy

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA)

Friday June 15, 2018, 10:00 AM

Professor Emily Liu Receives $1.8 Million DoE Award for Solar Power Systems Research

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday June 07, 2018, 03:05 PM

Celebrating 40 years of empowerment in science

Argonne National Laboratory

Monday May 07, 2018, 10:30 AM

Introducing Graduate Students Across the Globe to Photon Science

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday May 02, 2018, 04:05 PM

Students from Massachusetts and Washington Win DOE's 28th National Science Bowl(r)

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Thursday April 12, 2018, 07:05 PM

The Race for Young Scientific Minds

Argonne National Laboratory

Wednesday March 14, 2018, 02:05 PM

Q&A: Al Ashley Reflects on His Efforts to Diversify SLAC and Beyond

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

California State University, Channel Islands

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility





Showing results

0-4 Of 2215