A Cellulosic Ethanol plant may be coming to Idaho Falls

According the the Ottawa Sun, Iogen an Ottawa biotech firm who specializes in Cellulosic Ethanol is hoping to build a $350-million factory in Canada or Idaho Falls, next year. The " Cellulosic Ethanol " idea mentioned by Bush during this year's State of the Union speech makes fuel from wood chips and farm waste such as straw, corn stalks and other inedible agricultural byproducts. Cellulose is the woody stuff found in branches and stems that makes plants hard.

This is not the stuff of science fiction, the biofuels industries innovative technologies are improving by leaps and bounds, biofuels may bring staggering economic and environmental benefits very soon.

Supporters of alternative energy sources say that thanks to biotech breakthroughs, we may soon be able to produce ethanol easily and inexpensively. Nathanael Greene, an analyst with the environmental non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council said: "The process is like making grain alcohol, or brewing beer, but on a much bigger scale".

Scientists are working with microscopic bugs (Genetically engineered microbes) that produce enzymes that convert cellulose into sugars that can be brewed into ethanol, a process that turn waste into fuel. Researchers are exploring ways to exploit these one-cell microbe creatures that serve as the first link of life's food chain. Some researchers use the microbe itself to make ethanol; others are taking the genes that make the waste-to-fuel enzymes and splicing them into common bacteria. Synthetic Biologists are also trying to produce enzymes by creating entirely new life forms through DNA.

Iogen is producing ethanol by exploiting the destructive nature of the fungus "Trichoderma Reesei", which is the culprit responsible for "Jungle Rot" the scourge of soldiers in the jungles of the Pacific during WWII. Through a genetic modification known as directed evolution, Iogen has altered these fungus microbes so they produce prodigious amounts of digestive enzymes to break down straw into sugars.

It is amazing that microscopic bugs typically destructive pests can be so productive. Natural Resources Defense Council's Nathanael Greene said: "The technologies are out there to do this, but we need to convince the public this is real and not just a science project."

Putting my well founded intrinsic distrust of environmental organizations aside, and stressing this "grain of salt" caveat, on the Natural Resources Defense Council's web site they tout some of the benefits of biofuels: Cellulosic biofuels could slash global warming pollution by 2050, this could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 billion tons per year equaling 80 percent of transportation-related emissions. By 2015, they state: We could produce biofuels at costs equal to between $0.59 and $0.91 per gallon, and $0.86 per gallon of diesel. This could be a boon for our farmers, at $40 per dry ton; farmers growing 200 million tons of biomass in 2025 could net $5.1 billion per year. Experts believe farmers could produce six times that amount of biomass by 2050. Biofuels will also provide air quality benefits as they contain no sulfur and produce low carbon monoxide, particulate and toxic emissions, making it easier to achieve air pollution reduction targets. These fuels also offer land-use benefits as well, the switchgrass that Bush mentioned in the State of the Union address, the NRDC website states: Is a promising source of cellulosic biofuels, an endemic prairie grass, it has low nitrogen runoff, very low erosion, and increased soil carbon, and switchgrass also provides good wildlife habitat.

Bush's endorsement of the waste-to-energy technology has renewed interest in actually replacing fossil fuels as our dominant energy source. IogenÔs Executive VP Jeff Passmore said: "We have been at this for 25 years and we had hoped to be in commercial production by now," he added, "What the president has done is perhaps put some wind in the sails." Iogen is banking on getting a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to build this plant.

Considering this impressive list of benefits and despite the endorsement of Cellulosic Biofuels by the Natural Resources Defense Council I bet that the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and their faithful accomplices will come out against building this $350-million facility in Idaho Falls. If a project will produce jobs in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the GYC will be against it, if making wood chips benefits a logger, the GYC will be against it, if Corporate America might benefit, the GYC will be against it, if the American left's "Great Satin" George Bush advocates it, the GYC will be against it. I hope they prove me wrong!

 

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