Increasing Plantation Biomass Availability

Tests are needed to identify appropriate genotypes for local conditions and to evaluate alternative species for biomass production.

Research question

Woody-biomass plantations have the potential to greatly reduce the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of biomass and reduce feedstock transportation costs.  Identifying optimally adapted species and genotypes and determining the expected yields, costs and benefits of cultivating these species are necessary before establishing operational plantations.

Optimizing biomass yield per acre per unit of time is the most effective way of insuring sustainable, long-term resource availability at a competitive price. Tests are needed to identify appropriate genotypes for local conditions and to evaluate alternative species. Forest genetics and woody plant breeding have consistently shown that major increases in productivity, 50-100% depending on the species and its genetic variability, can be obtained quickly through conventional breeding. However, selection has always been based on producing optimal single tree growth for timber, rather than optimizing per acre yields of biomass.  It is also critical that tests be performed in the environment where actual production will occur, and little genetic testing has been done in the eastern Upper Peninsula. Hybrid poplars are frequently assumed to be best, but these trees have very low wood density, and thus energy density per unit volume.  Evaluation of these species, and fast growing, locally adapted alternatives, such as silver maple and balsam poplar, is needed to provide the raw material for this new industry in upper Michigan.



Tests of hybrid poplar clones are being conducted on large, 0.1 acre test plots. These trials are occurring in a total of five locations in northern Michigan; near Escanaba, Ontonagon, Brimley, Lake City and Onaway. Trials were established at varying times between 2008 and 2010; measurements of survival and growth are being conducted periodically during the first two years of each plantation trial.

In addition to these poplar trials, tests are being established for silver maple (Acer saccharinum).Current growth rate tests show this to be a promising species, especially when wood density is considered relative to poplar, but those tests contain very few sources from the eastern and northern portions of silver maple’s range.  Silver maple seed has been collected from the northeastern US and Ontario, and germinated in a nursery; the seedlings will be planted in test plots during the spring of 2011.

These tests will enable the evaluation of the long term contributions to sustainable energy production that can be made by these promising species. 


Progress and Results

See a report with the progess-to-date below. Data is still being collected from field tests.

Final Project Report:

Increasing Sustainable Biomass Feedstock Availability - Plantations