Biofuel production uses organic materials to produce fuel for use in transportation vehicles of all kinds, including cars and planes. The capstone class evaluated the biofuel in the context of providing a fuel source for the University of Wyoming steam plant as an alternative to coal. While it is not exactly like turning lemons into lemonade, companies are making some advances in the technology aimed to transform bark beetle killed trees into motor fuel. For example, a Colorado State University lab is working to test the fuel in a four-stroke Honda engine. A California-based company has turned lodgepole trees into the biofuel butanol, which is more like gasoline than ethanol.
GIS is a computer software technology that helps people visualize data. It allows people to see a map representation of whatever information interests them about a landscape. In the case of bark beetles that plague forests in the Rocky Mountains, for instance, GIS uses satellite images to show how have spread over time, in Wyoming and in the region.
With his background in economics, Darlington Sabasi of Zimbabwe, a UW graduate student, has been asking a number of questions for his team, such as how significant will the biofuel energy production be from the trees harvested, and will people be able to rely on this particular source of fuel in order to meet a portion of their energy needs in the future?
The students come from all kinds of disciplines – economics, biology, American Studies, for instance – because ENR is a dual-degree program, where students major in both ENR and another field. Prior to taking the Capstone Course, students will have received a good foundation and understanding of U.S. environmental policy and practices and will have completed some critical examination of historical and contemporary environmental issues. In the Capstone Course, taken in their senior year, the students must apply those policies and practices to the task of writing an environmental assessment – in this case, of a proposal to harvest beetle-killed trees in the Medicine Bow National Forest for biofuel.
Students of UW’s Environment and Natural Resource Capstone Class have been broken into teams to begin developing an environmental assessment on a real-world problem, a Forest Service proposal to harvest and turn beetle kill trees into biofuel. The teams are focusing on a range of topics related to studying bark beetle kill trees in the Medicine Bow National Forest. The study topics range from forest products to plants and wildlife – from cultural resources and recreation to economics. Last week, the students and their faculty mentors took a field trip to several sites in the Medicine Bow to see first-hand the impacts of the bark beetle on the forest ecosystem, and most noteworthy, on lodgepole pine, one of the species susceptible to bark beetles in the Medicine Bow because it dominates the landscape. This field trip presented students with an important opportunity to engage with faculty mentors, ask questions, and to see first-hand, in the “classroom” of the Medicine Bow, the devastating impacts of bark beetles on the forest landscape. The students visited Dry Park, Cinnabar Park, and Centennial Valley, and at each site faculty mentors shared their insights on the site-specific management needs and challenges.