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Forests as alternative fuel

Charlotte, NC -- Trees can be a better source for alternative fuel than corn, an expert in the forest products indu...


December 4, 2007
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Charlotte, NC — Trees can be a better source for alternative fuel than corn, an expert in the forest products industry said Wednesday. “The future of ethanol resides in the organic feedstock used to produce the fuel, and Southern forests are positioned to be a key component of the country’s future energy needs,” said Scott Twillmann, senior analyst for Charlotte, N.C.-based Forest2Market.

Corn has traditionally been the leading ethanol source, due to its availability and advanced refining process. But critics of corn ethanol note that it takes almost as much energy to produce as it yields for fuel. Corn ethanol is also blamed for increasing food prices when farmers, driven by high returns and government incentives, convert fields to plant corn instead of other crops.

However, woody biomass, including tree limbs, leaves and other forest byproducts, is emerging as a viable, plentiful and more efficient source for ethanol. Techological advances could turn wood chips and sawdust into fuel for cars without impacting food prices. There are other advantages, as well. “Unlike corn, trees can be harvested throughout the year, and timber companies don’t have to deal with storage issues,” Twillmann said.

Currently the refining process for biomass is costly and complex; the technology to make it competitive with gasoline is still being developed.