The federal government is launching a $10 million, five-year project to tap overgrown and beetle-ravaged Western U.S. forests as a new source of non-oil liquid fuel that could power cars, warships and airliners.
The Colorado State University-run research — to be announced Wednesday in Denver by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — will test mini biofuel refineries being developed by Greenwood Village-based Cool Planet.
Trucks will haul these refineries — wood-chippers and chemical conversion tubes — to locations near forests where dead trees are available. ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum, General Electric and Google are among the investors in what is described as a quest for cleaner, renewable fuel.
"Getting diseased wood out of forests more rapidly is going to reduce the risks of severe fire," Vilsack said in an interview Tuesday.
The issue is whether timber across millions of acres of forests hit by a now-slowing beetle epidemic can be tapped in a way that minimizes erosion. The mini refineries are seen as viable alternatives to large biofuel plants, which could cost $500 million and require costly transport of timber.
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Getting diseased wood out of forests more rapidly is going to reduce the risks of severe fire, Vilsack said in an interview Tuesday.