Growing new markets

NRRI’s hybrid trees are engineered to meet future demands for biofuel, renewal plastics, and eco-friendly chemicals.

Striving to identify the growth markets of the future is second nature at UMD’s Natural Resources Research InstituteThat’s why for over 20 years, NRRI has been developing fast-growing trees to use as environmentally sustainable materials and fuels.

The trees, developed by NRRI’s Materials and Bioeconomy Research Group, are a hybrid of native cottonwood and European black poplar that can reach maturity in ten years, unlike typical aspens that take up to 40 years to mature. NRRI’s trees are noninvasive and can be planted and managed like an agricultural crop.

With a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRRI is testing the trees in three climate zones to ensure similar growth across the Midwest. Ultimately, NRRI is looking for trees that do well in a number of climate zones, reducing the need to develop unique hybrids for different zones. 

NRRI’s hybrid poplars can be used in traditional paper and pulp markets. Researchers are also testing the tree’s use in biofuel, renewal plastics, and eco-friendly chemicals. NRRI wants their trees to be flourishing when new markets begin to grow.

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