Fifty forest landowners and industry leaders learned about the potential of using low-grade wood products to produce biofuels during the recent Beauregard Forestry Association annual meeting at Deridder, La.

“With fuel prices escalating, it is important for forest landowners to be involved in helping to find an alternative to using fossil fuels,” said LSU AgCenter forester Keith Hawkins.

After harvesting a tract of timberland, between 2 tons and 8 tons per acre of forest residues remain on the land.

“We need to find a way to utilize this residue and develop a market for it,” said Hawkins as he introduced Les Groom, who discussed a research project he is conducting on making biofuels from wood chips and woody residues.

Groom, who is with the U.S. Forest Service, explained how they are using a modified six-cylinder Chevrolet generator to convert wood chips into electricity as well as other biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol.

“This is a research project designed to let the public know what they can expect from their woody materials or residuals,” said Groom. “And we need at least 200 pounds of wood chips from the landowner’s property or fibrous waste material to run through the gasification unit to produce accurate data that can be beneficial to the landowner.”

Groom and others currently are transporting chips to Colorado to run through the gasification/generator unit. The U.S. Forest Service, however, purchased a unit and expects to have it operational by April in Winnfield, La. For more information on the generator or to have a sample analyzed, interested people may contact Groom at lgroom@fs.fed.us.

“We are here to serve the public by researching the potential and demonstrating the feasibility of the production of electricity and transportation fuels using wood chips,” Groom said.

He explained that although biodiesel is easier to make from wood chips, ethanol and other chemicals also can be extracted. Ethanol and other chemicals may require additional refining.

Landowners will see more opportunities with the new markets for renewable fuels, said Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association. Since Congress has mandated the use of 5 billion to 35 billion gallons of biofuels by 2017, there should be a growing market for using woody biomass from forests.

Another alternative energy crop discussed at the meeting was growing eucalyptus trees in the Beaumont and Merryville areas to use in producing biofuels. Eucalyptus is a fast-growing tree that produces a large amount of biomass.

“We planted 500 acres of eucalyptus last October and will plant another 500 acres next fall,” said Victor Ford with MeadWestvaco Eucalypt Program.

The trees will be harvested every eight years to use in the production of biofuels.