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Christmas trees: A 'green' fuel?

Jeffrey H. Owen

American Christmas tree growers regularly prune back their trees' branches and top to give a dense appearance. Someday in the future, the used trees could be burned as a green fuel.

It's the time of year when millions of us admire that Christmas tree one last time before we strip it of decorations and drag it unceremoniously to the corner with the rest of our holiday trash. But what if instead of filling up a landfill, our trees could be used to generate electricity?

New Scientist reports that Jenny Jones and fellow engineers at the University of Leeds in Britain are working on precisely that what-if. They're developing a process called torrefaction that makes biomass — including pine and spruce trees — suitable for burning alongside coal.


Torrefaction is already used to create biochar, which is added to soils to improve agriculture and avoid emissions of carbon dioxide that would have occurred if the plants were allowed to decompose. The team has proven the concept with willow and Miscanthus grass and is now working with electric utilities to test other sources of biomass, including trees. Findings are reported in Dec. 12 issue of the the journal Fuel.

It will be a while before torrefaction becomes a post-Christmas tradition, but in the meantime, there are other things to do with the tree besides taking it to the dump. Click into this story from the Tampa Tribune for some of the options. And for more about the science of Christmas trees, check out the stories below.


John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).