A federal grant will help researchers get more biofuels out of pine trees. The University of Florida says it will use the $1.45 million in federal money to develop trait-prediction models and accelerate the growth of loblolly pine trees to produce more bioenergy.
In his grant application, UF associate professor Matias Kirst, the principal investigator for the study, said Southern pines can be used as renewable biomass for bioenergy and renewable chemicals. However, for pines to meet their potential as a bioenergy crop, researchers must develop more productive cultivars that can be efficiently converted into liquid fuels, said Kirst, who teaches in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Traditional breeding typically takes 15-25 years to develop a new improved cultivar, Kirst said. This makes the industry less competitive compared to other forest species grown overseas.
“There is a lot of interest in the industry in breeding trees that grow faster, and with lower inputs,” Kirst said, particularly among paper manufacturing businesses.
Researchers hope that they’ll be able to reduce the breeding cycle to four to five years using a process known as genome-wide selection.