Zea mays

Ruth continues with the series for UBC Research Week:

Carolina Chanis is a UBC Biology student. She works in Dr. Jack Saddler‘s research lab and you may recognize her name from previous BPotD contributions of bryophyte microscopy. She calls this composition “pulp art”. This geometric design contains the results of different treatments on corn stover. Corn stover is the debris left over from corn harvest. Corn leaves, stalks, husks and cobs are collected and ground for processing. The different pulp samples were treated with acid, ethanol and temperature in varying combinations and amounts. The different responses to treatment resulted in the color, texture and degree of degradation made visible in this photograph. Carolina took these photos during her co-op study program.

Carolina writes: “The Forest Products Biotechnology group, led by Dr. Jack Saddler, investigates the production of second-generation biofuels from lignocellulosic materials. We are particularly interested in the use of beetle-killed Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine) as a source for biofuels. The Dendroctonus ponderosae (mountain pine beetle) epidemic in British Columbia has killed more than half of the lodgepole pines in the province, reducing the value and quality of the wood. By using this otherwise discarded wood, we can produce clean energy and reduce the risk of wild fires caused by the dead trees that are not harvested. The group is also working on Picea (spruce), Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir), Tsuga (hemlock) and agricultural residues such as corn stover.”

“Our team uses two different methods for bioconversion: steam explosion, which uses steam at high temperature and pressure, and the ethanol Organosolv process, which uses ethanol and an acid catalyst such as sulfuric acid too ‘cook’ the pulp at high temperature and pressure. The Organosolv process is essentially used to extract sugars for processing. We also study the subsequent stages in the bioconversion process: enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation. Our scientific research is coupled to studies in economic performance in order to develop the most cost-effective strategy for a sustainable future.”

Zea mays

12 responses to “Zea mays”

  1. TC

    There’s no mention of how these dead trees will be extruded from their resting place. I can only imagine the environmental impact if not done properly.

  2. Mike Allen

    Taking Biomass, i.e. soilbank, from a forest ecosystem to use for fuel seems, from an ecological perspective, like a dicey proposition.

  3. Annie Morgan

    I wasn’t aware that the lodge pole pines were in trouble – that’s very sad.

  4. Jo

    I love science!

  5. Dee

    Thanks for this, Ruth, and I learned a new word – stover. I live in BC and see the forest devastation firsthand. Having acres of dead, dry, second growth wood in the hot, dry interior of BC is a huge danger to humans, animals and all the remaining plants. As well as all the other dangers, forest fires pour enormous quantities of carbon compounds into the atmosphere. Logging roads already run through most of these areas. My opinion is that it is much more dangerous not to cull the dead trees than to cull them.
    picture of dying B.C.forest: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/401125.bin?size=404×272

  6. linda

    Very interesting, but I wonder how much energy is expended on harvesting, transporting and treating the dead trees in order to obtain biofuel. Is there a substantial net carbon reduction?

  7. Connie

    They won’t do it for free, let alone a loss.

  8. Gabrielle

    It seems that the amount of energy used to process these products would be more than the amount finally gained. Best use for agricultural waste is composted and added back to the soil. Feeding the soil with organic matter reduces the need for petroleum-based fertilizers and all the carbon-releasing activity associated with them.

  9. Lynn

    The energy used to remove the dead lodgepole won’t come close to the hydrocarbons that will be dumped in the atmosphere when the trees burn in a wildfire. Wildfire is the natural plan for lodgepole stands. Why else would they have serotinus cones?

  10. Eric in SF

    This is the classic environmental problem – one group of environmentalists are convinced that burning/harvesting is a positive ecological thing and an opposing group digs in their heels to prevent anything from happening. Each side has real reasons to not trust the other and in the end we all lose. =(

  11. Carolina

    Hi all,
    Thanks for your comments…I just saw the article, a bit too late!
    So far there are some pilot plants around the world, but this process has not been commercialized yet because we want to avoid what has happened to biofuel made from corn starch.
    I don’t think we’d use all of the corn stover for biofuel, not all the parts of the plant have the same chemical composition (the cell wall components are present, but in different amounts) so we need to do more research as to what portions of the stalk can be put into the soil and which could be put for bioenergy production.

  12. Carolina

    By process I meant: production of second generation biofuels.
    🙂

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