Sophia Horigan Kara Scherer Cellulosic Biofuels in the Pacific Rim

With a growing need to fuel energy demands, one of the directions being explored is the cultivation of cellulosic biofuels. Recently, the use of woody biomass as an ethanol source has become much more viable due to technological advances in the percent gain of product. However, there are also contentions about possible negative side effects, such as increased land use and anthropogenic homogenization of ecosystems to provide the trees necessary to create sufficient fuel.

Due to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Pacific Rim countries have been trading timber for decades. Recently they have focused more on trading wood pellets and wood chips for bioenergy production. The Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy took place in San Diego in December of 2013, and discussed many options for renewable energy. Multiple companies around the Pacific Rim are attempting to increase efficiency of ethanol production from biomass, or specializing in creating commercial scale cellulosic facilities, hoping to contribute to the increasing worldwide demand for liquid fuel.

Japan and the Pacific Northwest, as specific examples in the Pacific Rim, have been exploring the option of woody biomass as a source of biofuel. This has had certain implications as to how its production affects the economy, culture, and ecology of the area. 

In light of the earthquake and nuclear meltdown of 2011, as well as several Kyoto Protocol agreements, the Japanese government is revising its energy policies with the hopes of phasing out nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable energies. With 67% of its land covered in forests, Japan has been pursuing the possibility of utilizing the thinned biomass for cellulosic biofuel production.

Similarly in Oregon, biofuels are becoming a more plausible option for energy of the future. Hybrid poplars have been genetically engineered to grow quickly and efficiently to produce the most woody biomass, and their introduction to the natural environment has induced contention about natural land use for their plantations and their potential affects on preexisting species through crossbreeding. Oregon policy has recently taken these plausible options for fuel production quite seriously, and has introduced plans including the production of woody biomass to be considered for implementation.

Biofuel use and cultivation have significant implications in the Pacific Rim. This session will explore a number of related dimensions.

Cellulosic Biofuels in the Pacific Rim Presentation

Focus Questions

  1. How efficient is woody biomass as biofuel and to what extent is it used? What are policies that promote or discourage the use of biofuels?
  2. How feasible is the use of biofuels in terms of transportation, infrastructure, and grid compatibility?
  3. What are social and economic ramifications of biofuel use? How does biofuel production affect surrounding ecosystems?
  4. Considering the historical alterations that humans have made to forests, what novel effects from the expansion of biofuel use in and beyond the Pacific Rim could reinforce the idea of the Anthropocene?


  • Steve Strauss. Professor of Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at OSU. 

Dr. Steve Strauss researches means for improving the environmental sustainability of energy, wood, and paper production in trees using genomics and genetic engineering methods. His research is in part focused on genomics and genetic engineering of poplar trees, which are used in large scale energy plantations to produce biofuel

  • Meagan Nuss. Lewis and Clark Alumna.

Meagan Nuss graduated from Lewis & Clark as an Environmental Studies major (’08) and completed her M.S. at Oregon State University in the College of Forestry (’14), where she studied thermal and cogeneration bioenergy systems in eastern Oregon. Professionally she has worked on natural resource management issues on both private and public forestlands, including as the Ecosystem Values Coordinator for a large hybrid poplar tree farm. Currently she is a Faculty Research Assistant at Oregon State University Extension, as well as a private consultant. 

  • Kara Batdorff. Lewis and Clark Alumna.

Kara Batdorff graduated from Lewis and Clark as an Environmental Studies major. Her senior thesis included extensive research on global land use with a focus on Japan’s Mount Fuji. Kara has also done research on Japan’s geology as well as Mount Fuji as a cultural icon.

  • Sophia Horigan and Kara Scherer. Lewis and Clark Students.

Sophia is a biology major at Lewis & Clark College, and as a scholarly session co-chair has expertise in the technical production of ethanol from woody biomass, as well as woody biofuel use in the state of Oregon. Kara is an Environmental Studies major at Lewis & Clark College, and a scholarly session co-chair. She will be spending seven weeks this summer in Japan, studying land use and visiting various forests and plantations.

Annotated Bibliography

  • Antizar-Ladislao, B. and Turrion-Gomez, J. L. 2008. “Second-generation biofuels and local bioenergy systems”. Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref., 2: 455–469. doi: 10.1002/bbb.97

This article offers a scientific basis for using second generation biofuels. It discusses in particular the processes by which biofuel is obtained from, for example, woody biomass, obtained through enzymatic extraction of usable sugars from lignocellulosic material that are then converted to ethanol by yeast fermentation.

“An overview of the current forest products industry in Oregon combined with estimates of regional biomass supply; a review of literature related to use of woody biomass in Oregon for biofuels and bio-based products; and interviews with key stakeholders - private landowners and manufacturers that use wood products residues (including wood-based composites and pulp & paper). Information from the three sections is used to determine implications for research needs related to woody biomass utilization in Oregon.”

  • Etoh, H, N Sasaki, S Chay, and H Ninomiya. 2011. “Carbon Emission Reduction Potentials through Thinned Wood in Japan.” iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry 4 (3): 107–12. doi:10.3832/ifor0574-004.

In this article, the authors explore the efficiency of utilizing thinned biomass from Japan’s extensive forests for biofuel production. They stress the need for policy implementation to encourage this move towards bioenergy.

  • Giampietro, Mario, Ulgiati, Sergio, and Pimentel, David. 1997. “Feasibility of Large-Scale Biofuel Production”. BioScience 47 (9): 587-600.

This article details the pros and cons of using biofuels. It argues that biofuels cannot stand on their own, and they need to be improved through genetic research, before becoming a feasible energy source.

  • Gilman, Daniel. 2008. “Fueling Oregon with Sustainable Biofuels”. Oregon Environmental Council.

This document provides an account of the 2007 proposition by the Oregon Environmental Council working towards a sustainable economy through the implementation of policy regarding the production and use of biofuels. It explores currently used poplar hybrid trees, and speaks to progressions that would lower the economic cost for their production. This represents the specifics of biofuels in Oregon.

  • Koizumi, Tatsuji. 2013. “The Japanese Biofuel Program – Developments and Perspectives.” Journal of Cleaner Production 40 (February): 57–61. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.04.022.

This text provides an economic analysis of biofuel use in Japan. It details certain problems such as high production costs, and calls for the establishment of sustainable criteria for biofuel production in Japan.

  • Sasaki, Nophea, Toshiaki Owari, and Francis E. Putz. 2011. “Time to Substitute Wood Bioenergy for Nuclear Power in Japan.” Energies 4 (12): 1051–57. doi:10.3390/en4071051.

In light of the nuclear disaster in Japan, this article discusses policy incentives to utilize the dense forests in Japan to produce woody biofuels instead of using nuclear energy. It also brings up the possibility of repurposing land destroyed by the tsunami in 2011 to be used as biofuels. Additionally, the article examines the economic efficiency of the country switching to biofuels.