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New genomic research to tackle supply and demand issues in emerging forestry biofuels industry
Date:8/24/2009

Vancouver, BC In order to reduce the Province's greenhouse gas emissions, the BC Bioenergy Strategy is calling for greatly increased production of renewable biofuels such as ethanol, from biomass grown in BC.

But as ethanol produced from corn, sugar and other food products continues to raise concerns about impact on global food prices and availability, trees are being hailed as a source of next generation renewable biofuels.

In the meantime, the unprecedented devastation caused by the mountain pine beetle infestation in BC has created large amounts of unmarketable lodgepole pine that has the potential to supply the biofuel industry for the next 20 years and beyond.

While it seems to be a formula for success, there are many unanswered questions: How to efficiently convert this dead timber to ethanol? (Which is a much more complex process than grain conversion) Also, what new biomass crops or trees to develop and plant in order to guarantee a steady long-term supply of feedstock for BC biofuel production?

Two new research projects, largely funded by Genome BC, will help to answer these questions and unlock the valuable green energy found within BC's forests.

The first of the two projects will use genomics to determine the most efficient methods of liberating fermentable sugars from the dead pine sugars that are broken down with enzymes and then fermented to ethanol.

Dr. Jack Saddler, UBC's Dean of Forestry, is leading this $1.1 million project, entitled, Optimizing Ethanol Fermentation From Mountain Pine Beetle Killed Lodgepole Pine.

"Trees are a huge store of chemical energy that can be converted into liquid biofuel but we need to identify the ideal method to produce these sugars economically," he says. "What makes wood so difficult to breakdown when compared to corn or other starch-based biofuel, is that the cellulose, unlike starch, is designed by nature to NOT be broken down easily."


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Contact: Rachael Froese Zamperini
rzamperini@genomebc.ca
604-612-6345
Genome BC
Source:Eurekalert

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