The development of alternative fuels can help to alleviate environmental issues such as air pollution and can reduce the dependency on fossil fuels. Ethanol is one such alternative fuel, and it can be made from a variety of feedstocks including woody plant matter (i.e., lignocellulosic biomass). To date, corn has been the main feedstock supplying production facilities, but it is not an ideal resource for fuel production because of its status as an important food crop. Woody plant matter is a viable alternative as it is widely available and is not a staple food.
As the most productive tree species in the southern US, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) has great potential as a feedstock species for ethanol production, but production of ethanol from loblolly pine wood is challenging. Many different chemical and physical wood properties are genetically controlled traits, and variation in properties affecting ethanol production may exist. Currently, 23 clonal varieties of loblolly pine, selected for a diverse range of chemical/wood properties, are being converted into ethanol via enzymatic hydrolysis. Preliminary results are encouraging. The best clone out of ten already tested with a dilute acid pretreatment yielded almost 13% more sugar per gram than the average. These sugars once released can be fermented to create ethanol. This variation in sugar yields among pine varieties suggests there are significant genetic differences that can be used to improve conversion to ethanol.