Turning trees into fuel

By Peter Kent

poplars in the forest; photo courtesy of purdue

As demand for oil increases, the search for alternative fuels becomes a top priority. Researchers are studying grasses and trees as sustainable resources to produce ethanol. Fast-growing poplar trees hold much potential as a fuel-stock but require costly pretreatment prior to processing for ethanol. 

Cellulose is the plant material used to make ethanol. Another plant material, called lignin, impedes processing into fuel. Geneticist Haiying Liang is seeking to breed poplars with a lower lignin content that could improve bio-fuel production and be less costly to process without harming the tree’s growth.

She is growing test trees now in the Clemson greenhouses. Her results could lead to increased bio-fuel production within the next decade.

For more information: Haiying Liang, 864-656-2414, hliang@clemson.edu or http://people.clemson.edu/~hliang/.