Using dead trees to fuel cars

Trees killed by Pine Beetles
Trees killed by Pine Beetles

The University of Georgia Research Foundation has developed an innovative way to turn dead trees into a liquid fuel and has licensed it to Tolero Energy in California. We could be driving on our dead forests as soon as 2010.

The Pine Bark Beetle, among other pests now thriving because of climate change, has decimated some forests. So this would certainly be a use for that wood.

The technology represents a leap forward for the biofuels industry. Not only does the resulting biofuel need no additional refinement before blending with diesel fuel, but it is a naturally very low-sulphur biofuel.

And it would prevent additional CO2 from being released if the forest was left to decay.


  1. We have a HUGE pine beetle killl here where The High Desert meets The High Cascade, and As a Fourth Generation Oregon Logger, I have twice – ten years ago and months ago – written business plans to go out there and get that deadwood and turn it into something before it catches fire at the south end of town and burns all the way to Klamath Falls. The bottom line: without subsidies, heavy subsidies, it is cost ineffective to get the wood out.

    Kind of an interesting reversal though: twenty years ago those such as I were ‘demented butchers out gleefully killing the forest’, now the general population wants it clear cut.

  2. Oh, please.

    It’s time to grow up and wrench ourselves away from the notion that we can continue burning everything in sight in order to maintain our idiotic car-centered transportation infrastructure. Just how would burning these trees in our cars release less CO2?

    I am also an Oregonian, and I think the best use for those trees is to selectively log them and turn them into useful products – houses, furniture, etc. That sequesters the CO2, mitigates the fire danger, AND puts people back to work, both falling the trees and in the secondary industries of milling and manufacturing wood products. But Ten Bears is right, it will require significant government subsidies to do it, and right now the federal treasury is being looted by Wall Street to keep the banks and the car companies afloat a few months longer. Sorry, Ten Bears.

    All these schemes to keep the cars running are going to run into dead-ends of resource depletion, whether it is the heavy metals required for sophisticated batteries in electric cars, the immense amounts of water needed for algae-powered biofuels, or the prime farmland needed for ethanol. For example, I’ve seen estimates that we would need to devote three quarters of our farmland to ethanol crops to keep America’s cars on the road. But you know, we’re probably insane enough as a nation to do that so we can drive up to McDonald’s and eat — oh, wait, there’s nothing to eat. And I bet at the end of the day most Americans would be OK with clear cutting our remaining Northwest forests if it meant being able to drive the Suburban for a few more months.

    The solutions are right in front of us, but unfortunately they are at cross-purposes with the agenda of our corporate oligarchy. Smaller scale communities easily navigated on foot and by bike; decent, affordable mass transit; reliable inter-city rail. Instead we continue to squander brainpower and resources to keep our commitment to the unsustainable.

    • Also, forests need rotting trees and vegetation to continue to grow. Ten Bears was correct in saying that getting those trees to the processing plant would be a near-impossible task.

      Conservation and mass transit are indeed lasting solutions.

  3. I agree that mass transit makes sense in urban areas. The suburbs, in such a plan, are vistually dead. But what about those of us out here in rural farm country, where your food comes from (remember us)? Virtually by definition, population here is too sparse to support mass transit. And I doubt we’ll be hauling hay or manure on a city bus anytime soon…

    As always, there’s no one single answer. Heating with wood makes sense in rural areas, but not urban. Mass transit makes sense in urban areas, but not rural. We’re going to need a lot of different approaches, and this could be one.

    Part of that will mean giving up your Hummer in favor of a Smart Car or Vespa. And speaking of subsidies, cutting the government’s subsidies for fossil fuels will help by letting the market set higher prices. As long as they’re artifically low, we taxpayers are subsidizing conspicuous consumption.

    • Maybe biofuel made from crop leftovers could be made locally in a co-op. A sugar refinery in Maui already does this and runs the equipmen t from the biofuel.

      Are farm machines efficient? If not, maybe they could be made better.

      • My point exactly. I’ve read about solar-powered tractors, but so far all tractors in this area run on deisel or gasoline. At some point, we WILL run on biofuel. The premise that nationally we’ll give up our personal vehicles neglects the fact that someone has to feed all you urbanites– grow food and get it to market.

        But then, many argue y’all don’t want to know where your food comes from…

  4. I recently participated in “where will we be” ten or twenty years from now project here where The High Desert intersects The High Cascade, and was dismissed out of hand by suggesting we clear cut the dead crap non-indigenous pines, unsustainably turning them into turpentine (or bio-fuel), re-plant the clear cuts with two crops a year of commercial hemp, now legal to grow in the state of Oregon, and rejuvinate the abandoned sawmill my grampa built in the thirties – talk to me about Wobblies – as a bio-fuels production plant anchoring a local mass transit centered on the nearly abandoned rail corridor twixt here and there.

    Dismissed out of hand.

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