Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oregon Alfalfa Growers, Cellulosic Ethanol, and OSU in the News

From the Capital Press
Oregon: Alfalfa Growers Consider Biofuel Options
Feb 18, 2008 - By Patricia R. McCoy, Capital Press (I saw this first at the Biobased News)

RENO, Nev. - Biofuels have a place in filling U.S. energy needs, but they can't solve the entire problem.Cellulosic ethanol can be part of it, but the necessary technology development probably won't come as fast as is hoped, some 160 members of the Northwest Alfalfa Seed Growers Association heard here Jan. 21.There are currently no U.S. ethanol plants using cellulose as their seed stock, said Don Wysocki, Oregon State University extension soil scientist stationed at Pendleton, Ore. The first one is likely five to 10 years away from construction.

Just to mention it. Cellulosic ethanol is here now. The issue is that it's not considered cost competive unless corn and petroleum prices stay at their now record levels. So it all hinges not on the technology but the commodity prices of petroleum and corn.

There are several real players pursuing cellulosic ethanol right now in Oregon. The most prominent being Pacific Ethanol which will be running a demonstration of cellulosic ethanol at it's Port of Morrow, Oregon plant this summer. Also worth mentioning is Trillium Fiber Fuels out of Corvallis, Oregon which promises the ability to build a commercial scale plant given the right market conditions (they've demonstrated now that they need the right conditions to own their technology while going commericial scale).

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the paper industry and cellulosic ethanol have many of the same technologies in common. The technology to strip the lignen from the cellulosic fiber is used currently by the paper industry. In fact they manufacture methanol in biodigesters and burn it as a cheap energy product called black liquor. Cellulosic ethanol just requires more efficient yields than current paper pulping which isn't making ethanol but instead the cellulosic fiber itself.

We have industrial infrastructure to handle the technical process, experienced engineers, the distributors of enzymes and bugs, not to mention a world class amount of woody material and agricultural producers to contribute to this industry. Oh yeah - did I mention the highest retail gasoline prices in the US combined with a 10% ethanol mandate year round. Oregon is prime for cellulose sooner rather than later. I would say 10 years only if oil drops back below $60 a barrel.

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