Pilot project converts dead trees into green fuel

$500,000 state grant will build first-of-its-kind facility to clear dead trees from the forest and convert them into a form of hydrogen fuel at Tule River Tribe reservation

TULE RIVER TRIBE RESERVATION – The Tule River Tribe reservation will be the site of a first-of-its-kind project to solve two of California’s most dire needs – preventing catastrophic wildfires, and reducing emissions from fossil fuels.

On May 31, the Tule River Tribe received one of two $500,000 grants to California tribes to convert forest biomass – dead trees and shrubs – into carbon-negative biofuels, a hydrogen based fuel. In partnership with the Tule River Economic Development Corporation (TREDC), alternative energy company Kore Infrastructure plans to develop a modular facility in the mountains east of Porterville.

Use of the facility will help in the removal of dead and diseased trees that pose a fire threat. The technology converts the wood to hydrogen, for fuel, and biocarbons, a soil amendment.

The other grant was awarded to the Red​ding Rancheria Economic Development Corporation to develop a new hydrogen production facility in Red Bluff. The hydrogen will help address climate change by providing clean fuel for transportation on the I-5 corridor, replacing fossil fuels that emit CO2 and eventually providing electricity as well. The hydrogen will be produced utilizing forest biomass from the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The department’s Forest Biomass to Carbon-Negative Biofuels Pilot Program funded these projects in the Sierra Nevada region because they demonstrate technologies and plans for the creation of energy from Sierra Nevada-sourced forest biomass. This is to help offset the use of fossil fuel, improve forest and community resilience and create regional economic opportunities.

“This first-of-its-kind project solves two of California’s most pressing challenges: reducing wildfire risk while decarbonizing transportation,” said Kore Infrastructure Founder and CEO Cornelius Shields. “We are proud to partner with the Tule River Economic Development Corporation, which will own and operate the facility on their reservation east of Porterville, in support of their energy independence goals. Conservation’s support is critical to helping make renewable energy innovation like Kore’s available to all.”

Since its founding in 2008, Kore has developed a proprietary, closed-loop technology converting organic waste into 100% renewable natural gas, named UltraGreen hydrogen, biogas, and biocarbon (a valuable soil amendment and coal substitute); thereby reducing the need for landfills and incinerators and removing CO2 emissions from the atmosphere for good.

Tule River Economic Development Corporation CEO Dennis Ickes noted that the Tule River Tribe hopes to balance economic opportunity with environmental protection.

“We are pleased Conservation has chosen Kore and TREDC as a recipient, knowing that this grant will help further our plans for an answer to climate change and a chance to further our economic development,” Ickes said.

Jeremy Hayward, tribal member and President of the Redding Rancheria Hydrogen 2 Energy Corporation, described his tribe’s proposal as forward-looking.

“As tribal members we’ve learned to be responsible for the next seven generations,” he said. “Producing hydrogen from excess forest biomass is a win-win for the environment, addressing climate change and destructive forest fires at the same time. We must do our part to make this world a better place for our kids.”

Both projects focus on repurposing “woody biomass waste” – treetops and branches, undergrowth such as shrubs and other forest litter collected for wildfire mitigation. Removal of this waste reduces the risks to public safety or infrastructure from wildfire, creates defensible space and supports other forest restoration projects.

Funded projects are meant to show the technical viability of businesses creating value from this waste product, and support California’s drive toward alternative energy and climate resilience. These investments will help meet the Governor’s goals for enhancing Tribal sovereignty and self-sufficiency while also contributing toward statewide goals for forest health.

There are now more than 2.6 million acres of dead trees in California forests, according to a recent survey by the USDA Forest Service. Most of the tree mortality can be attributed in part to drought or bark and engraver beetle attacks that have resulted in more than 200 million trees killed since 2010.

Additionally, fires in the upper Tule watershed in 2021 resulted in massive tree mortality. The Tule Reservation includes thousands of acres of high elevation tall trees, including more than 500 large sequoia trees in the 20 mile-long, 3300 acre Black Mountain Grove.

“We congratulate these awardees and look forward to ongoing collaboration up and down the Sierra Nevada,” Department of Conservation Director David Shabazian said. “Converting forest biomass waste into carbon-negative energy is a critical part of achieving California’s climate goals while reducing wildfire hazards, improving watersheds and supporting sustainable local economies in these regions.”

The grants are funded through a pilot program administered by the Department of Conservation in close coordination with the California Energy Commission and the California Air Resources Board, as well as other state entities sharing similar climate goals. The two recent awards bring the state’s total program investment to $4 million for projects that will also improve forest health, reduce wildfire risk, and improve the state’s watershed in the Sierra Nevada. The program was launched with a $50 million allocation in the state’s 2022 budget.

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