From boughs to biofuels: ways to recycle Christmas trees

From boughs to biofuels: ways to recycle Christmas treesAs the magic of the 2010 holiday season fades to memory, once festively adorned Christmas trees lay naked and neglected in backyards and along roadsides. And many other Christmas trees remain unsold in vacant lots. What should be done with all these trees? With a little ingenuity and science, Christmas trees can be recycled in other uses, such as biofuels or even fish habitat.

Surplus Christmas trees in Australia could become jet fuel. The airline Qantas is teaming up with the Solena Group to construct a plant to produce biofuels from “food scraps and other household material such as grass and tree cuttings, agricultural and industrial waste.” Solena developed the technology based on the Fischer-Tropsch process. German scientists invented the Fischer-Tropsch process to make liquid fuel from coal. They used it during World War II, since the Allies, not surprisingly, refused to export oil to the Nazi regime. The process was further refined by South Africa during apartheid, who also faced an oil embargo at that time. Now, as the world faces the possibility of peak oil, the US-based Solena Group modified the process to convert biomass to jet fuel. This year’s Christmas trees might fuel next year’s Christmas travel.

In addition to fueling jets, Christmas trees may someday be used to produce hydrogen. A team of scientist from Virginia Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the University of Georgia recently announced a process that uses a mixture of enzymes to convert wood chips into hydrogen. Currently, most industrial hydrogen comes from oil refineries. For hydrogen transportation to be truly a green alternative, hydrogen needs to be produced economically from a renewable feedstock. This research may prove to be an important step in reaching such a goal.

Of course, neither of these options would help someone wanting to get rid of their tree today. There is another alternative: throw your tree (with permission naturally) into a creek or lake. Old Christmas trees also make great fish habitat.