New Crossbreed Trees a 'Mega' Energy Alternative?

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The push for renewable energy sources has produced a series of hits and misses, but producers of the "Megaflora tree" hope they have a concrete solution.

Developers say the tree grows in tough environments and produces large amounts of biomass for fuel -- without using up land needed to grow food supply.

"It is God's tree and I'm a storekeeper," Emerald Energy CEO Ray Allen told CBN News. "The values were way beyond my expectations. This has been my dream... to be able to plant trees like this."

The invention is also known as the HDSR tree for its "high density" and "short rotation." The tree produces five to 10 times more biomass for fuel and other energy uses than other plants, according to the International Technology Development Corporation. The plant also grows very quickly, reaching full size of about 60 feet tall in just three years.

The 'Miracle Tree'

Carlos Freitas is the first grower in California's San Joaquin Valley to produce the trees for commercial use. After 75 days in the ground, he was impressed.

"It's an amazing tree. It's like a miracle tree," Freitas said. "They're already reaching six feet tall, some of them, so it's really growing rapidly. It's very exciting."

Emerald Energy, the company behind the tree, gave CBN News recent photos of the trees in Freitas' field. Company spokesmen said some grew to 14 feet in four months while others made it to 20 feet within a year.

Unlike a traditional tree, the Megaflora tree re-grows from its stump after harvest. It produces no fruit or fertile seeds, which makes it non-invasive, yet it's still productive over a long lifetime.

"Every other biomass has to be replanted," Allen explained. "We plant one time. We cut the tree down. It grows back."

While new trees grow, the harvested Megafloras can be used to make cellulosic biofuel. Cellulose is the fiber inside a tree. Wood chips from the trunk are eventually turned into liquid biofuel.

Allen says the tree's greatest attribute is that it cleans the environment. The roots actually improve the quality of the soil and water under the ground.

"Having a hollow stem in the tree itself that carries water to the leaf... any pollutant that's in water is carried to the center of the tree and is captured either by the leaf or the wood product itself," he explained. "That would include salt, selenium and boron, especially here in the San Joaquin Valley."

Allen added that -- while some of the trees planted in poor soil in the valley didn't do well because of little surface water -- the ground around them now has thick, green grass that hasn't been there in 25 years.

Too Good to be True?

The growth process starts by mixing DNA of two different tree species through root grafting. A treated root goes from soil to a greenhouse then, after about a month-and-a-half, the new tree goes back in the ground.

Critics say the process is too labor intensive. Allen and his wife treat, plant and water the roots by hand.

Allen sees it as a way to grow the economy and welcomes more employees and farmers to help process the roots and grow the trees.

"I would rather create the jobs and share the income streams and put everybody back to work," he said. "The war on poverty starts when the first shovel of dirt is turned over to plant one of these trees."

Megaflora tree developers add that the tree can grow in poor soil and harsh climates and doesn't take up land used for food supply -- neutralizing the "food vs. fuel" battle.

Skeptics say it's too good to be true, but Allen claims, "The trees don't lie."

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.