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Sustaining Forests

Siting Poplar Biomass Systems to Increase Productivity and Associated Ecosystem Services

Research Issue

Short rotation woody crops (SRWC) such as Populus species and hybrids (i.e., poplars) are renewable energy feedstocks that can potentially be used to offset electricity generation and natural gas use in many temperate regions, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, USA. Highly productive poplars grown primarily on marginal agricultural sites are an important component of our future Midwest energy portfolio. Additionally, poplars can be strategically placed in the landscape to conserve soil and water, recycle nutrients, and sequester carbon. These purpose-grown trees are vital to reducing our dependence on non-renewable and foreign sources of energy used for heat and power. Establishing poplar genotypes that are adapted to local environmental conditions substantially increases establishment success and productivity. But, it is difficult to predict field trial success in landscapes where the crop has not been previously deployed.

Our Research

We have merged knowledge of poplar biology with large-scale spatial analysis to predefine zones of potential plant adaptation that are ecologically sustainable and economically feasible across the landscape. The project builds on SRWC research conducted at our Institute since 1968, as well as decades of poplar genetics research in the region. Along with empirical data on poplar growth and productivity collected in both states, we combined key climatic and soil properties with land ownership and use constraints to develop a GIS-based spatial analysis protocol to identify candidate areas for potential establishment. Currently, we are evaluating land-use, soil health, and water quality changes within these areas to synthesize the environmental and social constraints on woody energy crop development within the region.

Expected Outcomes

Our approach is novel in that it integrates genetics and landscape ecology, so that sustainable crop development can be more rapid, precise, and efficient. This type of approach has never been conducted for woody energy crop production. Landowners and industrial representatives will use the results of the study to evaluate trade-offs of woody energy crop production versus other uses, while researchers will benefit from the development of the protocol and availability of the soil and water synthesis that is currently not available. 

Research Results

Lazarus, W.; Headlee, W.L.;  Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2015. Impacts of supplyshed-level differences in productivity and land costs on the economics of hybrid poplar production in Minnesota, USA. BioEnergy Research 8:231-248.

Headlee, W.L.; Zalesny, R.S,. Jr.; Hall, R.B.; Bauer, E.O.; Birr, B.A.; Randall, J.A.; Wiese, A.H. 2014. Influences of site conditions and clonal selection on hybrid poplar biomass growth and carbon content in the upper Midwest, USA. In: 10th Biennial Conference of the Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group; July 17-19, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA.

Lazarus, W.; Headlee, W.L.;  Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2014. Impacts of supplyshed-level differences in productivity and land costs on the economics of hybrid poplar production in Minnesota, USA. In: 10th Biennial Conference of the Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group; July 17-19, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA. Also presented at: International Poplar Symposium VI; July 20-23, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Headlee, W.L.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Donner, D.M.; Hall, R.B. 2013. Using a process-based model (3-PG) to predict and map hybrid poplar biomass productivity in Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA. BioEnergy Research 6:196-210.

Headlee, W.L.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Hall, R.B.; Bauer, E.O.; Bender, B.; Birr, B.A.; Miller, R.O.; Randall, J.A.; Wiese, A.H. 2013. Specific gravity of hybrid poplars in the north-central region, USA: within-tree variability and site × genotype effects. Forests 4:251-269.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Headlee, W.L. 2013. Poplar energy crop development in the North Central United States: biomass supply potential and ecosystem services. In: IBBC 2003 – TAPPI International Bioenergy and Bioproducts Conference: A Fresh Look at Biomass Utilization; September 18-20, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA.

 Headlee, W.L.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Hall, R.B.; Donner, D.M. 2012. Using the 3-PG model to predict and map hybrid poplar biomass productivity in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In: 9th Biennial Conference of the Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Group; November 5-8, 2012; Oak Ridge, TN, USA. pp 15-16.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Coyle, D.R.; Donner, D.M.; Headlee, W.L. 2012. Identifying suitable areas for woody crop production systems in Wisconsin and Minnesota to maximize productivity, increase ecosystem services and meet energy feedstock demands. Unpublished final research report to Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy, Madison, WI. 62 p.

Zalesny, Ronald S., Jr..; Donner, Deahn M.; Coyle, David R.; Headlee, William L. . 2012. An approach for siting poplar energy production systems to increase productivity and associated ecosystem services. Forest Ecology and Management. 284: 45-58.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Donner, D.M.; Coyle, D.R.; Headlee W.L. 2012. An approach for siting poplar energy production systems to increase productivity and associated ecosystem services. In: 9th Biennial Conference of the Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Group; November 5-8, 2012; Oak Ridge, TN, USA. p 28.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2012. Woody feedstock production for bioenergy and environmental sustainability in the North Central United States. In: 3rd Pan American Congress on Plants and Bioenergy; July 15-18, 2012; Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.;Donner, D.M.; Coyle, D.R.; Headlee, W.L.; Hall, R.B. 2011. Regional sustainability analysis of siting Populus energy crops in the Midwest, USA. In: Annual General Meetings of the Poplar Council of Canada, International Poplar Commission (FAO) - Environmental Applications Working Party, and the Poplar Council of the United States: Poplars and Willows on the Prairies – Traditional Practices meet Innovative Applications; September 18-24, 2011; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Donner, D.M.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2010. Potential land-use changes with woody energy crop production in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In: 2010 US-IALE Twenty-fifth Anniversary Symposium: Is What Humans Do Natural?; April 5-9, 2010; Athens, GA. 

Donner, D.M.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2010. Using spatial analysis to develop protocol for optimizing testing, siting, and productivity of poplar energy crops at regional scales. In: International Energy Agency Bioenergy Conference; Sustainability Across the Supply Chain of Land-based Biomass. June 1-4, 2010; Kamloops, BC, Canada.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Donner, D.M. 2010. Land-use, soil health, and water quality changes with woody energy crop production in Wisconsin and Minnesota. pgs. 81-82. Review of notable federal research activities related to biofuels and sustainability. In: Expanding Biofuel Production and the Transition to Advanced Biofuels: Lessons for Sustainability from the Upper Midwest. P. Koshel and K. McAllister, rapporteurs. Summary of a workshop held on June 23-24, 2009: Madison, WI. National Research Council of the National Academies. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.   

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Donner, D.M.; Coyle, D.R.; Headlee, W.L.;  Hall, R.B. 2010. A protocol for identifying suitable testing and deployment sites of poplar energy production systems in the Midwest, USA. In: 8th Biennial Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group Conference: Short Rotation Woody Crops in a Renewable Energy Future: Challenges and Opportunities; October 17-21, 2010; Syracuse, NY. p 18.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Donner, D.M.; Coyle, D.R.; Headlee, W.L.; Hall, R.B. 2010. An approach for siting poplar energy production systems to increase productivity and associated ecosystem services. In: Fifth International Poplar Symposium: Poplars and Willows: From Research Models to Multipurpose Trees for a Biobased Society; September 20-25, 2010; Orvieto, Italy. p 110.

 

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Ronald S. Zalesny Jr., US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist
  • William L. Headlee, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Ames, IA
  • Deahn M. Donner, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Research Ecologist
  • David R. Coyle, University of Georgia, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Athens, GA

Research Partners

  • Richard B. Hall, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Ames, IA
  • Raymond O. Miller, Michigan State University, Forest Biomass Innovation Center, Escanaba, MI
  • Bradford Bender, Michigan State University, Forest Biomass Innovation Center, Escanaba, MI
  • Brian Stanton, GreenWood Resources, Inc., Portland, OR

Last Modified: November 17, 2016