The mountain pine beetle has been ravaging Colorado's forests, leaving 1.5 million acres of dead and dying lodgepole pines. Now, an $88 million project hopes to make some lemonade out of those lemons, reports the Rocky Mountain News.
Canadian companies Lignol Innovations and Suncor Energy plan to build Colorado's first cellulosic ethanol plant, which would convert beetle-kill and other wood residues into motor fuel. When it gets up and running in demonstration stage, the plant would process 100 tons of wood residue per day, yielding 2 million gallons of ethanol a year.
The proposal has received support from the federal government, and will reportedly receive $30 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The plant, to be completed by 2012, could be built in Commerce City. It was one of four proposed bio-refineries across the country that have been slated to receive $114 million from the DOE.
In addition to ethanol fuel, the Colorado plant will produce lignin as a byproduct, which is a useful ingredient in lubricants and other goods. This, combined with the sellable fuel, has foresters excited, since they hope it can pump money into the system to pay for the thinning of forests they say will help control the beetle problem.
Many greens have been trumpeting the benefits of cellulosic ethanol processing, which can use readily available "waste" wood, fast-growing switch grass and many other materials. Making ethanol directly from corn or soy has not proved to be very energy or land efficient.
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