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Crop Biotech Update

Purdue University Begins Five-Year Poplar Research for Biofuels

October 28, 2011

The news service website of Purdue University (Indiana,United States) announced that a research team led by Associate Professor Rick Meilan of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources began a five-year research project on assessing the viability of poplar tree species as a biofuel feedstock for ethanol production.

Poplar trees (trees belonging to the genus Populus) are already used for energy; the wood from these trees are burned in electricity-generating plants. They have been identified poplars as a potential biofuel feedstocks in the forest biomass category due to the following reasons:

  1. they are fast growing;
  2. trees like poplar have larger biomass volumes compared to most row crops;
  3. they can be vegetatively propagated (a stem segment shoved into the ground, will spontaneously develop into a growing plant;
  4. they are multi year crops, and "might not be as management-intensive as annual crops such as corn and soybeans"; and
  5. "unlike row crops, poplars could be harvested at any time of the year and sent directly to ethanol plants, allowing growers to avoid drying and storage".

The Purdue University news website mentions that the Purdue study will be looking into 69 poplar tree varieties of poplar species and how they would perform under (1) different soil and climatic conditions, (2) disease and insect pressure, and (3) fertilization and watering regimes. Associate professor Meilan and researcher Patrick T. Murphy will also be looking into planting/harvesting issues. An example is a strategy to modify conventional farm machinery for harvesting operations,so that farmers will not be required to make large investments in new equipment. The research hopes to "help propel the fledgling cellulosic industry" in the country.