The tiny mountain pine beetle is approximately the size of a grain of rice. ((Natural Resources Canada))

Alberta is introducing a $28 million research project aimed at converting trees killed by mountain pine beetles into newsprint.

The project will focus on the development of new sensors by the Alberta Research Council that will be able to detect wood that has been killed by beetle infestation by finding the dryness and blue stain left behind. Printers will then be able to adjust their presses for the drier, weaker and darker wood by injecting more bleach, heat or water to compensate.

The result will be the transformation of a waste product into a viable commercial substance. 

"Millions of dead and dying mountain pine beetle-infested trees will be put to commercial use to manufacture newsprint," said Doug Horner, minister of advanced education and technology, in a press release on Monday. "It may be welcomed in other parts of Canada and the world facing similar forestry challenges such as other insects, fire and drought."

The sensor and printing press technology will be tested at the Alberta Newsprint Company's Whitecourt plant. The installation is part of a research and development program that started in 2005 and will continue to full-scale production in 2015.

This three-year sensor project is supported mainly by investments of almost $17 million from the Alberta Newsprint Company and a $10 million grant from the province's Community Development Trust.

The tiny pine beetle has infested and killed vast tracts of forest in British Columbia. While it has not yet done much damage in Alberta, the insect is migrating east.