Renewable biofuel crop attractive to local economy

By Betsy Fradd, WSU Extension

STANWOOD, Wash. – Trees and technology are making the road to renewable resources more promising with each growing season.

poplar-4At the first poplar-for-bioenergy harvest recently in Stanwood, a harvester with a specialized header cut and chipped trees in a single pass.

“It’s a much different cropping system for harvesting these trees than a timber harvest,” said Patricia Townsend, WSU regional extension specialist with Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest. “This machine, specifically for poplars and willows, works like an agriculture machine in terms of cutting and getting usable product.”

poplar-5The poplars, planted in spring 2013, are known for fast growth and ease of conversion into acetic acid and renewable transportation fuels. Acetic acid is a high-value chemical made in the first steps of the conversion process that can be used to make paint, plastics, textiles and environmentally friendly de-icing salts.

The trees are the focus of the Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest project (

“We are excited because of what these trees mean for a future bioeconomy,” said Townsend. “The poplars provide a local and renewable resource that can potentially displace our need for petroleum-based products.”

The next harvest at the Snohomish County Pilchuck site is scheduled for 2017.