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WSU biofuel project has new benefit after oil prices drop

Researchers are coming up with more uses for biofuel after the drop in oil prices are making it less popular.

SEATTLE - Plunging oil prices mean demand for biofuel is decreasing. But thanks to unassuming trees like the poplar, green tech still has a bright future.

Washington State University is part of a research project to make up what are called Advanced Hardwood Biofuels.

A handful of universities and a biofuel refinery are growing and harvesting poplar trees which are pulverized and turned into biofuels. But with the price of oil dropping, funding for biofuels has also decreased and their $40 million grant expires this year. So researchers are now focusing on replacing other petroleum-based chemicals used in manufacturing

As the poplar wood chips are converted into biofuel, chemical byproducts like acetic acid and ethyl acetate are created. Those chemicals are used to make clothing, tape, and plastic. And this process is easy on the planet.

"Most of our fuels and chemicals are coming from petroleum, It's not a renewable resource. We need to search for renewable resources for a variety of reasons -- environmental, political safety. It's important that we start thinking about this today and right now," said Dr. Patricia Townsend, WSU Regional Extension Specialist.

The other potential byproduct of this program is economic. Biofuels could mean a lot of new jobs in the northwest if costs become more competitive and production ramps up.