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Forest Disturbance Processes

Biofuels, Bioenergy, and Bioproducts from Short Rotation Woody Crops

Research Issue

[photo:] Poplar bale for bioenergy.There is a substantial global need for development of integrated systems and technologies across forestry and agriculture that can economically and sustainably produce short rotation crops across multiple temporal and spatial scales. As energy supply emerges as a key 21st century National security issue for the United States, the use of short rotation woody crops for biofuels, bioenergy, and bioproducts is a necessity. Poplar energy crops have been extensively studied throughout North America for over half a century and are one of many alternative feedstocks contributing to the Nation’s energy security.

Our Research

We are testing the genetics, physiology, and silviculture of poplar crops. Specific areas of interest include quantitative genetic analyses of biomass, rooting, and other important traits from hundreds of genotypes grown throughout the North Central United States, as well as analyses of tree growth regulating mechanisms in the face of varying environments, changing climate, and the need for carbon sequestration. Our silviculture research includes a range of studies from vegetation management to yield trials. In addition, our results are used as baseline information for collaborators testing wood property traits and associated conversion efficiencies of the biomass, as well as for collaborators developing enterprise budgets, life cycle analyses, and other economic models.  

Expected Outcomes

These collective efforts will enhance feedstock development and subsequent production of poplar energy crops. Gaining knowledge of poplar genetics and physiology will directly inform silvicultural prescriptions and management guidelines, regardless of where the trees are grown. Overall, our research results from the past three decades have been used to increase the biomass potential and efficiency of plantation establishment, while results from new research are expected to greatly help meet the Nation’s energy demands.

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.\

Zhang, J.; Gu, F.; Zhu, J.Y.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2015. Using a combined hydrolysis factor to optimize high titer ethanol production from sulfite-pretreated poplar without detoxification. Bioresource Technology 186:223-231.

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.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Headlee, W.L. 2014. Developing woody crops for the enhancement of ecosystem services under changing climates in the North Central United States. In: International Symposium on Tree Breeding Strategies to Cope with Climate Change; September 15-19, 2014; Suwon, Republic of Korea.

Headlee, W.L.; Hall, R.B.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2013. Establishment of alleycropped hybrid aspen “Crandon” in central Iowa, USA: effects of topographic position and fertilizer rate on aboveground biomass production and allocation. Sustainability 5:2874-2886.

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.

Headlee, W.L.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Hall, R.B.; Bauer, E.O.; Birr, B.A.; Randall, J.A.; Wiese, A.H. 2013. Effects of genotype and environment on carbon sequestration of hybrid poplars in the North-Central USA. In: 10th International Phytotechnologies Conference; October 1-4, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA.   

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Coyle, D.R. 2013. Short Rotation Populus: A Bibliography of North American Literature, 1989 – 2011. Gen. Tech. Report NRS-P-110. Newtown Square, PA; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. p 103.

Headlee, W.L.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Hall, R.B. 2012. Effects of topographic position and fertilizer rate on the early growth of hybrid aspen ‘Crandon’ alleycropped with winter triticale near Ames, IA (years 1-3). In: 9th Biennial Conference of the Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Group; November 5-8, 2012; Oak Ridge, TN, USA. p 15.

Isebrands, J.G.; Richardson, J.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2012. A new poplar and willow publication for a global audience. In: 9th Biennial Conference of the Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Group; November 5-8, 2012; Oak Ridge, TN, USA. p 34.

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. 2012. An approach for siting poplar energy production systems to increase productivity and associated ecosystem services. Forest Ecology and Management 284:45-58.

Wang, Z.J.; Zhu, J.Y.; Zalesny, Ronald S., Jr.; Chen, K.F. 2012. Ethanol production from poplar wood through enzymatic saccharification and fermentation by dilute acid and SPORL pretreatments. Fuel. Vol. 95 (May 2012): p. 606-614. 

Mahama, A.A.; Hall, R.B.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2011. Differential interspecific incompatibility among Populus hybrids in sections Aigeiros Duby and Tacamahaca Spach. The Forestry Chronicle 87:790-796.

Lazarus, W.F.; Tiffany, D.G.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Riemenschneider, D.E. 2011. Economic impacts of short rotation woody crops for energy or oriented strand board: a Minnesota case study. Journal of Forestry 109:149-156.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Cunningham, M.W.; Hall, R.B.; Mirck, J.; Rockwood, D.L.; Stanturf, J.A.; Volk, T.A. 2011. Woody biomass from short rotation energy crops. Chapter 2, pages 27-63. In: Sustainable Production of Fuels, Chemicals, and Fibers from Forest Biomass. J.Y. Zhu, X. Zhang, and X. Pan, eds. ACS Symposium Series; American Chemical Society. 526 p.

Francis, R.C.; Bose, S.K.; Hanna, R.B.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Riemenschneider, D.E. 2010. Inter-correlations of physical and chemical properties amongst hybrid poplars grown in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. 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 32.

Headlee, W.L.; Hall, R.B.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2010. Aspen-triticale alleycropping system: effects of landscape position and fertilizer rate. 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 129.

Vance, E.D.; Maguire, D.A.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2010. Research strategies for increasing productivity of intensively managed forest plantations. Journal of Forestry 108:183-192.

Zhu, J.Y.; Pan, X.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2010. Pretreatment of woody biomass for biofuel production: energy efficiency, technologies, and recalcitrance. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 87:847-857.

Casler, M.D.; Mitchell, R.; Richardson, J.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2009. Biofuels, bioenergy, and bioproducts from sustainable agricultural and forest crops. BioEnergy Research 2:77-78.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2009. Integrating phytotechnologies with energy crop production for biofuels, bioenergy, and bioproducts. In: Sixth International Phytotechnologies Conference; December 2-4, 2009; St. Louis, MO. p 70.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Hall, R.B.; Zalesny, J.A.; McMahon, B.G.; Berguson, W.E.; Stanosz, G.R. 2009. Biomass and genotype × environment interactions of Populus energy crops in the Midwestern United States. BioEnergy Research 2:106-122.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Hall, R.B.; Zalesny, J.A.; Berguson, W.E.; McMahon, B.G.; Stanosz, G.R. 2008. Biomass potential of Populus in the Midwestern United States. In: Biofuels, bioenergy, and bioproducts from sustainable agricultural and forest crops: proceedings of the Short Rotation Crops International Conference; August 18-22, 2008; Bloomington, MN. Gen Tech Report NRS-P-31. Newtown Square, PA; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. p 72.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Mitchell, R.; Richardson, J., eds. 2008. Biofuels, bioenergy, and bioproducts from sustainable agricultural and forest crops: proceedings of the Short Rotation Crops International Conference. General Technical Report, NRS-P-31. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 76 p.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Zalesny, J.A.; Bauer, E.O. 2007. Ecological sustainability of alternative biomass feedstock production for environmental benefits and bioenergy. In: Fourth International Phytotechnologies Conference; September 24-26, 2007; Denver, CO. p 62.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Riemenschneider, D.E. 2006. Using short rotation woody crops for bioenergy in North America. New England Society of American Foresters News Quarterly 67:10-11.

Zalesny, R.S., Jr. 2004. Hybrid poplars: multipurpose trees for private landowners. Tree Farmer November/December:40-42.

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
  • JY Zhu, US Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, WI

Research Partners

  • Edmund O. Bauer, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Technician Emeritus
  • Richard B. Hall, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Ames, IA
  • Jill A. Zalesny, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Research Volunteer (Plant Physiologist)
  • William Lazarus, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics, St. Paul, MN
  • Raymond Francis, State University of New York, Syracuse, NY
  • Raymond O. Miller, Michigan State University, Forest Biomass Innovation Center, Escanaba, MI
  • Brian Stanton, GreenWood Resources, Inc., Portland, OR
  • Bernard G. McMahon, University of Minnesota, Natural Resources Research Institute, Duluth, MN
  • Glen R. Stanosz, University of Wisconsin, Department of Plant Pathology, Madison, WI

Last Modified: October 3, 2016