Researchers plant, test trees for bioenergy sources

Staff Report
Published Dec. 20, 2012

Scientists are studying to find out if poplar trees grown in South Carolina could play a role in the nation’s bioenergy sector.

Researchers at Clemson University’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center and Ridgeville-based ArborGen Inc. have collaborated to plant thousands of poplars at the Pee Dee center to determine if certain varieties of the tree are suitable for bioenergy stock.

David Brown, ArborGen's southeastern field research manager, said that biomass for bioenergy gives landowners another market for their crops.

“Clemson’s Pee Dee center plays a vital role developing bioenergy markets by growing a variety of bioenergy feedstock,” Brown said in a news release. “In the case of this project, we are working to determine the absolute best tree for bioenergy and having that available to South Carolina forest landowners.”

In 2009, Clemson and ArborGen formed a research cooperative that centered on development of purpose-grown woody biomass as feedstock for the biofuels industry.

Last year, ArborGen planted four species of poplars at the Pee Dee center. Some of those trees already have grown taller than 20 feet and show great promise for emerging bioenergy markets worldwide, Brown said.

Brown and Clemson crop physiologist Jim Frederick have planted more than 3,000 trees, which they will monitor and evaluate during the next few years. The approximate time between harvests is about five to six years, by which time some may be more than 50 feet tall, Brown said.

Clemson’s Frederick said much of the woody biomass for bioenergy likely will come from purposely grown bioenergy trees that have fast growth rates and is an important area of research for Clemson to be involved in.

“Interest in bioenergy as a whole is the basis for the partnership,” Frederick said. “There’s no big grant involved — just two groups working together for a common cause.”

The trees will sprout again and grow from the cut stumps, thus they need to be planted just once.

Clemson and ArborGen collaborate in such areas as plant genetics and development, field trials, equipment engineering, material handling and woody biomass pretreatment, among other areas.

Research is conducted on tree species that include coastal loblolly pine, sweetgum, eucalyptus and poplar trees.

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Added: 20 Dec 2012

In reading this article, it would on the surface seem like a harmless endeavor with lots of potential up sides for renewable energy which we all should be cheering. However, there is very slippery slope here in that these proposed trees and plants are not native and pose a threat to our native trees and habitats.Since the specific scientific names are not listed in the article that assertion as to the native or non native aspects are not certain. Regardless, the threat to our natural resources is still very great and this should not be endorsed or condoned without scientific study prior to releasing potentially harmful plant species into our environment.

Rick Huffman