Forests killed by pine beetle being turned into biofuel

Cobalt Technologies has developed a way to turn lodgepole pines killed by the pine beetle into biobutanol.

“If we use only half of the 2.3 million acres currently affected in Colorado alone, we could produce over two billion gallons of biobutanol — enough to blend into all the gasoline used in Colorado for six years,” says their CEO.


  1. The Great Forest Die-off: “Across western North America, from Mexico to Alaska, forest die-off is occurring on an extraordinary scale, unprecedented in at least the last century-and-a-half – and perhaps much longer. All told, the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the United States have seen nearly 70,000 square miles of forest – an area the size of Washington state – die since 2000 … British Columbia, ground zero for the mountain pine beetle infestation in North America … some 53,000 square miles of mature pine forest is dead and the province is projected to lose 80 percent of its mature trees by 2013.

    If this is viable it could a long way to address both the fire danger and the unemployment.

    • We’re using it to stay warm in the winter. The Forest Service sells permits, subject to strict regulations and geographical restrictions, for $10 a cord. That’s about $50 per year for sustainable heat. (You can see the young trees already jockeying for space, filling the space we make by taking down the dead trees.) Propane heat would cost us around $400 per winter, and electric heat would cost even more.

      Still, even with hundreds of homeowners cutting, we don’t seem to be making much of a dent in the acreage of dead trees…

      By the way, the bark beetle seems to have invaded the Rockies around surrounding areas because of warmer winters, allowing it to survive and gradually adjust. But hey, there’s no climate change around here!

      • As I’ve noted here in comments and elsewhere previously, the warmer climes are now pushing the beetle (both pine and balsam bark) into the sub-alpine pines and firs, and where we were previously seeing a predictable one reproductive cycle per year cycle we now see two and three. As ever, with increasing population not only are territories increasing but they no longer attack just the stressed younger, weaker trees but the mature adults as well. recent studies estimate the very real possibility of the loss of upwards of eighty percent of the pine forests of the Northern Rockies and the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. The entire inter-mountain west on fire is a bit hard to conceptualize.

        Cuttin’ firewood ain’t gonna’ get, DJ, what’s needed is a WPA project – put every unemployed capable of even picking up a stick out there getting it out of there before it burns. In essence mechanically replicate what fire would naturally do.

        Fire is, afterall, a part of the ‘natural’ cycle.

          • I have. It wouldn’t be just the dead wood that burns.

            BLM has crews that manage such risks, cutting firebreaks and burning areas that need it. One of my friends on a crew occasionally tells me where to find wood that they’ve taken down. (Though as we saw here two years ago, sometimes a controlled burn turns into something else.)

            I wonder why Forest Service isn’t on this? They let us cut to our heart’s content, with permit, but I’ve never seen their crews up there.

            Last year they instituted a rule that no tree over 8″ in diameter could be felled. Since the bark beetle killed everything in its path, that leaves a lot of dead trees off limits. I’ve taken downed Ponderosa that’s 36″ in diameter– about the max my little 20″ saw can handle– and a friend has in the past brought me 48″+ rounds. There’s a lot more that size that’s dead but still standing, and will apparently remain so.

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