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China firm to trial genetic trees for Brazil biomass power boost

Project will be world’s most advanced trial of a genetically modified forest to boost tree yields used in biomass power plants

Modified eucalyptus trees will be trialled to boost Brazil biomass power
Modified eucalyptus trees will be trialled as a way to boost biomass power in Brazil

A UK firm is set to trial genetically modified trees to boost biomass power in Brazil. FuturaGene UK, held by Suzano Papel e Celulose SA, has won approval from the country for the world’s most advanced trial of a genetically modified forest as it seeks to boost yields of trees used in biomass power plants.

According to reports, the company will plant modified eucalyptus trees in coming weeks in a fourth trial to test the safety and effectiveness of the technology, Chief Executive Officer Stanley Hirsch said in an interview, according to Bloomberg. Inserting genes into trees allows increased yields for electricity generation or manufacturing of pulp and paper.

Biomass may make up about 21 per cent of the world’s energy supply by 2050, curbing fossil fuel emissions, the International Energy Agency says. FuturaGene is seeking to use its technology commercially in late 2015 to early 2016 when trials are finished and yield-enhanced eucalyptus approved, Hirsch said in London.

“This pioneering fourth trial is a key step toward the commercial deployment of our first plantation product,” he said. The test of the technology is the world’s most advanced for an enhanced-yield plantation forest, according to Hirsch.

The trees may produce about 1 million tons of wood pellets from about 38,000 hectares (93,900 acres) of plantation land or enough to power a 200-megawatt power station, he said. Biomass such as wood and farm waste has the highest potential for growth of any renewable power source, according to the Paris-based IEA.

“Genetic-modified technology, if you look at it scientifically, is a vital sustainability tool that allows you to do more with less resource,” Hirsch said. “The misperception is really damaging the ability to actually push these products into the market,” he said.

FuturaGene, bought by Suzano Papel e Celulose in July 2010, also plans to improve yields of poplar trees and has facilities in Brazil, China and Israel, according to the company.