Carl Douglas, Shawn Mansfield
University of British Columbia
Research Funding Program:
Genome Canada 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition
POPCAN: Genetic improvement of poplar trees as a Canadian bioenergy feedstock
The global exploitation of petroleum reserves has enabled modern industrialization, but the depletion of hydrocarbon reserves will present a significant limitation to current raw material and energy supply. Furthermore, the extensive combustion of fossil fuels is resulting in large-scale release of the potent greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which been identified as a key contributor to anthropogenic climate change. The Canadian government has established a Renewable Fuels Strategy, which aims to reduce GHG emissions by mandating an average 5% renewable fuel content in gasoline for the transportation sector. At current consumption rates, this translates to almost 2 billion litres of renewable fuel annually for small vehicles alone.
The agricultural sector cannot supply the renewable resources required to meet these volumes, and especially not at the expense of producing food and feed. Thus, a substantial new investment in feedstocks for biofuel production in Canada will be required, much of which will likely come from woody plants and trees grown as dedicated bioenergy crops (estimated requirement 6.25M dry tons per year). However, significant obstacles must be overcome to bring this to fruition, including the cost and availability of feedstocks, and conversion technologies for feedstock conversion.
This project will use genomic techniques to address these issues, and will be instrumental in establishing short-rotation, fast-growing, treebased bioenergy plantations that can effectively populate a variety of climate zones across the Canadian landscape and can be effectively converted to liquid fuel. A social research component will work closely with the genomic sciences to establish a framework for land use change and make policy recommendations to make the science a reality.
Researchers will comprehensively characterize the genetic and trait diversity in two prominent Canadian poplar species that are viewed as strong candidates for breeding programs to generate woody biomass feedstocks across Canada. Using extensive existing populations, researchers will build on current genomics research in poplar and take advantage of rapid advances in genome sequencing technology and mulit-faceted platforms for trait assessment to investigate the genetic underpinnings of biomass and biofuel trait variation.
As immediate outcomes, the POPCAN project will inform and guide current poplar breeding strategies and generate key genetic markers for germplasm/genotype selection. It will address land use, economic, and social issues affecting poplar biomass/bioenergy plantations, in collaboration with end users interested in deployment of poplar bioenergy plantations in Canada.