Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have led to widespread tree death in coniferous forests across the Rocky Mountains over the past decade, with ~42 million acres of U.S. forests impacted since 1996. This trend is only likely to intensify with future global climate change. The resulting beetle-killed wood represents a vast bioenergy resource that requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. However, beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas with challenging topography, and transportation costs have been a key barrier to more widespread productive utilization of this vast resource.
Cool Planet Energy Systems’ recent advances in modular thermochemical conversion technologies enable the production of advanced liquid biofuel feedstocks and biochar co-products on-site deep within stands of beetle-killed timber, bypassing these fundamental logistical constraints. There are still significant technical and knowledge barriers that must be explored before such systems can be widely deployed in an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable manner. The Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR) brings together scientists, educators, and extension specialists from universities and government agencies across the region to work with the industry and develop a comprehensive program addressing the major challenges limiting feedstock development, production, logistics and utilization of insect-killed trees for the production of biofuels and biochar. The BANR approach focuses on 5 major task areas:
Feedstock Supply: Integrating field plot data, remote sensing and geospatial layers to estimate feedstock supplies and produce digital feedstock atlas
Harvest Logistics & Processing: Develop cost and production models for bioenergy-specific forest harvest & biomass transport operations; establish specifications for beetle-kill feedstock quality & pretreatment
System Performance & Sustainability: Quantify the ecological impacts of beetle-kill harvest, the financial viability of the supply chain and potential for lifecycle greenhouse gas mitigation, and the value of the biochar co-product; assess economic, social and policy constraints; produce a web-based decision support system
Education: Promote general bioenergy literacy through the development of middle school and high school educational materials, K12 teacher professional development activities, and undergraduate- and graduate-level course development
Extension, Outreach, Health & Safety: Provide information to communities and stakeholder groups on all aspects of a potential beetle-kill industry in the Rockies; understand and address concerns of communities regarding the health and safety aspects of biofuel and biochar production and transportation
BANR is a Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no.2013-68005-21298 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).