The cellulosic ethanol movement got a much needed boost yesterday with the announcement that Valero, the nation’s largest independent oil refiner, is investing $50 million into the Mascoma Corporation’s plans to build a commercial sized wood-based biofuel refinery in Kinross, Michigan. Together with subsidiary Frontier Renewable Resources, Mascoma, based in Lebanon N.H., intends to break ground on the facility by mid-2011 with fuel production slated for 2012. According to Mascoma’s press release, the refinery will use selectively harvested pulpwood to produce 40 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. Mascoma’s demonstration plant, located in Rome, New York, has shown the sustainability of biofuel technology by producing 200,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol for the past 2 years.
Even with the help of other investors such as General Motors and VantagePoint, Mascoma has had to delay building of the Michigan facility which was originally planned for 2009. Now, with the interest by Valero to invest in biofuel technology, Mascoma can move ahead with their commitment to cultivate sustainable energy. Perhaps even more crucial to the future success of Mascoma is the off-take agreement with Valero, which would mean that Valero would purchase the cellulosic ethanol produced by Mascoma for use in their gasoline. Although with wording in the press release leaning toward the conservative side with “non-binding agreement” and “Valero would potentially invest up to $50 million”, Valero’s commitment will still remain to be seen.
Cellulosic ethanol is produced using the non-edible parts of plants and forestry materials such as wood, stalks, and switch grass. Currently, ethanol producers in the U.S. make corn-based fuel, which has been criticized for jeopardizing farmland that would ordinarily be used for food production. Cellulosic ethanol eliminates the food vs. fuel debate by using non-food plants that can be grown in environments where the soil is infertile. For more about Mascoma and cellulosic ethanol click here.