Converting Beetle-Killed Trees into Renewable Energy

The spread mountain pine and other beetles is causing significant damage to U.S. forests, especially across the American West. Various beetles, including mountain pine, western bark, southern pine, and spruce, kill millions of trees across North America every year.

In early 2012, FPL was instrumental in developing a framework for handling beetle-killed trees. More recently, FPL researchers have been working on specific solutions for how to use common western tree species such as lodgepole pine in biofuels development and thus making the most of beetle-killed trees.

This clip from USDA explains how new on-the-ground projects are targeting large swaths of beetle-killed trees for removal and conversion into biomass for renewable energy.

Making the Most of Beetle-Killed Trees

Some 20 billion cubic feet of beetle-killed timber now stands in 12 Western states, according to Forest Service estimates. The New York Times was recently in touch with FPL to see what, if anything, could be done with the swaths of dead trees stretching across 23 million acres of U.S. forests.

Mountain pine beetle infestation.

Mountain pine beetle infestation.

The resulting Times story highlights one landowner, Larry Lipson of western Montana, who was determined to find an opportunity within such massive destruction.

Lipson and his family own 37,000 acres of land, including a resort area and ten miles of Blackfoot River shoreline. When the mountain pine beetle began killing trees on this land four years ago, the Lipsons took steps to stop the infestation.

The treatments were effective but the pest still left them with more than 10,000 dead trees. Faced with disposing of thousands of tons of wood, Lipson got creative. His entrepreneurial spirit spurred the launch of Bad Beetle, a company now making accessories for Apple computers, tablets, and phones out of beetle-killed wood.

FPL researchers have been working to find uses for trees killed by invasive insects for more than 50 years. Recently, two useful guides for addressing the issue were published,  Economic Uses for Beetle Killed Trees and Wood Utilization Options for Urban Trees Infested by Invasive Species.


Practical Advice for Using Insect-Killed Trees

Today, the U.S. Forest Service announced the release of a manual that provides urban forestry professionals with practical guidance for managing the millions of dead and dying trees that must be properly used or disposed of as a result of the devastating effects of invasive insects.

EABmanualThe free publication, developed by the Forest Products Laboratory and the University of Minnesota Duluth, offers insight into the wide variety of products and markets that are available and practical advice for considering the many available options for using insect-killed wood. Uses include lumber, furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and pellets for wood-burning energy facilities.



Meet the Beetles: FPL Develops Framework for Handling Beetle-Killed Trees in Western U.S.

Finding uses for millions of tons of beetle-killed trees as a way to offset forestland restoration costs and developing market-oriented ways to use the biomass is a priority for the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) has developed a new strategic framework for approaching these issues in a new report titled: Economic Use of Beetle-Killed Trees. This framework is supported by decades of FPL research in the sustainable and economically viable use of beetle-killed trees.

Out of 749 million acres of forest in the US, 9.2 million acres of trees were killed by insects and disease in 2010.

Out of 749 million acres of forest in the US, 9.2 million acres of trees were killed by insects and disease in 2010.

Out of a total 749 million acres of forest in the United States, 9.2 million acres of trees were killed by insects and disease in 2010. Various beetles, including mountain pine, western bark, southern pine, and spruce, will continue to kill millions of trees across North America every year. The mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae), a native insect found in the western United States, kills about 74% of these trees, nearly seven million forested acres annually.

Mountain pine beetles have a one?year life cycle and spend most of their life feeding on conductive tissues between bark and wood. Trees are killed by the destructive galleries mined by the beetles and the blue stain fungus carried by the insects. This fungus decreases the wood moisture content and weakens the tree defense mechanisms. Blue stain carries over into products made from the stained logs and the physical condition of the wood affects how it can be processed. As such, profitability and usefulness of stained wood can be adversely affected. Infested trees also dry and develop splits and checks as the drying stresses are relieved.

Challenges associated with manufacturing wood products from beetle?killed timber stands exist through all phases of production, including harvesting, transportation, log storage, processing, and end-product marketing. Timber stands left in the wake of the current mountain pine beetle outbreak, however, represent a significant economic resource.

A key issue in this complex problem is the amount of time, or shelf life, associated with capturing economic values and how this may vary between locations. Where current local infrastructure exists to produce value?added products, the FPL provides a framework for overcoming technical and economic barriers to using beetle?killed trees. Where local infrastructure is inadequate or completely lacking, FPL seeks to develop and help commercialize new value?added uses for the wood. Best-use scenarios have economic and market potential on a scale matching the degree of forest biomass available and justifies the capital investment required.

In carrying out this type of work, FPL routinely seeks to develop public–private partnerships with an array of organizations and forestland managers. Diversifying inputs and partnerships helps to overcome technical and economic barriers and can promote the commercial use of beetle killed trees in producing traditional and non?traditional forest products and bioenergy. FPL seeks to involve itself in research, development, and deployment of new and improved technologies to the greatest degree that its expertise and capabilities can benefit private sector partners to ensure successful commercialization.