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Oklahoma looks at ways to curb spread of red cedar trees

A processing plant in Enid, controlled burns and goats could help control the spread of Eastern red cedars, which take over about 700 acres per day in Oklahoma.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: September 2, 2012

A multimillion-dollar plant to process oil and fuel, more controlled burns and even using goats are some of the ideas proposed to help reduce the number of Eastern red cedar trees in Oklahoma. The hardy, invasive trees threaten the state's landscape by choking off land for crops and pastures and by fueling wildfires.

Wildfires that spread across at least four counties last month increased in intensity when they came across Eastern red cedar trees. Fires seemed to explode as flames engulfed the trees.

The wildfires, which destroyed 680 homes and businesses and burned more than 114,000 acres, were a reminder how much of a danger the trees pose and how fast they are overtaking the land. The Eastern red cedar takes over nearly 300,000 acres of Oklahoma land each year. It's estimated the state is losing about 700 acres per day to the trees.

Gary Bledsoe, chairman of the Eastern Red Cedar Registry Board that was formed two years ago to encourage markets for the cedars, as well as methods to eradicate the trees, said only 10 percent of the cedar trees in the state is marketable in a lumber form.

“That other 90 percent mostly is just a brushy species that is encroaching on pastureland and roadsides and in timber,” he said. “It's not really marketable as timber. They just look like brush.”

Some companies in the state already are making mulch from the cedar trees and others are making furniture and boards from the trees.

“They're utilizing such a small percentage of the production of cedar in the state of Oklahoma,” Bledsoe said.

Cedar oil

An Oklahoma City group is proposing to use a process to heat shredded Eastern red cedars to recover cedar oil.

When refined, the oil can sell for $45 per gallon; it has a wide range of applications, including pharmaceuticals for cancer treatment, pesticides and fungicides.

Sun Rays 2 Oil wants to build a $200 million plant in Enid that would extract the cedar oil, which makes up about 3 percent of the weight of the tree. The company has developed a process that also allows for the recovery of cellulosic activated carbon, which is used in water filtration, medical drug filtration and the cleansing of sugar, said Andre Thomas, president of the group.

The plant would have a second stage that would convert the biomass material to a specific carbon type and then inject oxygen and other additives to convert 90 percent of the carbon to hydrocarbon fuels such as jet fuel and diesel, Thomas said. It's possible to get about 200 gallons of jet fuel from each ton of wood.

About 97 percent of the tree is converted to other products, he said.

With slight modifications, the plant could convert to liquid hydrocarbon fuels from a variety of woody biomass products, such as used lumber, municipal waste, plastics and asphalt shingles, according to material Thomas provided to members of the cedar registry board during a meeting last week.

Sun Rays 2 Oil is trying to finalize financing of the project and is looking at possible state incentives, Thomas said.

The plant would hire 65 to 85 employees.

“We see this as an opportunity to roll this out nationwide, and Oklahoma would be the first site,” Thomas said.

“Our target feedstock is primarily invasive species. It just makes sense. There is a need to remove that. We're not taking that product from other uses that are in the marketplace right now.”

‘Board of trade'

Brent Kisling, executive director of the Enid Regional Development Alliance, said a group has been formed in Enid, the National Feedstock Resource Center, to work out contracts with landowners in the region so Sun Rays 2 Oil would have a steady supply of Eastern red cedars.

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