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Some Like it Harsh: More Biofuel from Willow Trees When “Mistreated”


Willow_Tree_DiagonalBritish researchers have observed that willow trees typically used for green energy actually produce more than five times more biofuel if they grow diagonally, as opposed to those that typically grow vertically towards the sky.

The study, detailed in Biotechnology for Biofuels, addresses the discovery that some trees have a genetic trait that produces this behavior and it is activated when the trees sense they are not on an angle. The study was conducted at the South Kensington Campus’s Gro-dome facility in central London. The trees were grown on a rooftop at an angle of 45 degrees.

Scientists discovered that environmental stresses can cause positive effects that cause trees to naturally develop reactions to the stressors and more efficiently release sugars.

The willow stems are strengthened by sugar molecules, and the molecules make the attempt to stretch the tree upwards. By so doing, the high-energy sugars are fermented into biofuels when the trees are harvested. Researchers do note the harvesting method needs to be greener and more cost-effective in order to compete with fossil fuels.

The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC) is supporting this study in the goal to improve the conversion of biomass to fuels. Scientists hope this discover will lead to grow biofuel crops in climatically challenging conditions where the options for growing food crops are limited, therefore minimizing conflicts of food versus fuel.

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