Skip to Content

Your Green Life: NRRI receives grant to grow hybrid trees for biomass

DULUTH, MN– An experiment decades in the works.

The University of Minnesota Duluth received a huge grant to expand their research on fast-growing hybrid trees.

The University’s Natural Resources Research Institute or NRRI received a $1 Million grant to breed hybrid poplar trees which could be used to meet the future demands of biomass resources.

But what exactly is biomass?  It’s described as organic matter used as fuel especially in a power station for the generation of electricity. It has been classed as a renewable energy source because plant stocks can be replaced with new growth.

Futuristic and anticipatory, that’s how a current research project is described by a member of UMD’s natural resources research institute. “Use Minnesota’s natural resources in an environmentally sound manner for economic development,” says George Host,  Forest Ecologist, and co-investigator on the project.

The research facility received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 4 years to expand research on fast-growing hybrid trees and promote industrial use.

Host says, “take years and years of our research on hybrid poplar breeding for fast-growing trees, and see how this will work on a midwest wide scale.”

NRRI has been working for 20-plus years to develop hybrid poplar tree families that are a cross-breed of local, native cottonwood and European black poplar. “The European Black Poplar brings to it is, disease resistance and ability to root better,” says Host.

These trees can reach maturity in about 10 years, as opposed to a typical aspen which would take about 40 years.
“Over this plant breeding cycle of 20 years, we’ve increased the productivity of these trees 50% to 60%. So now we have trees that will grow to 10, 11 inches in several years.”

The grant will allow NRRI to test the trees’ growth success in varying environments including northern Minnesota, central Iowa, and southern Indiana. “These are plants that would not reproduce in the wild. There are sterile plants.”

An important project to feedstock biomass.  Their mission to deliver research solutions to balance economy, resources, and environment. “it’s important for the future of our planet’s energy. It’s an important contributor to being another alternative to fossil fuels,” says Host.

Currently, the trees that are planted are “going to sleep for the winter.” Host says in the spring researchers will look at winter survival, weed the sites, and measure the growth.

The funding will also support NRRI’s continued family field trials, clone trials and other tests that take place over a 5-year time span.

Jessie Slater

Evening Anchor and Reporter

Skip to content