The Environmental Protection Agency continues to give the green light to E15, but the biofuel doesn't have to come from corn ethanol. The exact source of the ethanol in gasoline – whether its 10 percent ethanol (E10) or 15 percent (E15) – isn't impacting the E15 debate, it does in the "food vs. fuel" debate, and that's why a potential solution coming out of Colorado caught our eye.
Ethanol producer Front Range Energy, based in Windsor, CO, has successfully tested a new process to make ethanol from waste wood. The company has a patented technology for making fuel from woody biomass instead of corn, and is the second major US ethanol producer to do so. Front Range will begin commercial production next year and plans to covert seven percent of its ethanol production from corn to woody biomass during that time. Switching over to that much biomass will reduce corn consumption by about 1.2 million bushels a year.
The Colorado ethanol producer has signed a 15-year, $100-million deal with Rochester, NY-based Sweetwater Energy to use Sweetwater's process for converting biomass to sugars, which are then distilled into ethanol. If that conversion process works well, Fort Range will increase its use of biomass. Sweetwater plans to acquire waste wood primarily from lumber mills. Some of it may come from beetle-killed pine (pictured), a source that's plentiful in Colorado.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory bioenergy engineer Jim McMillan said several firms nationwide are testing cellulosic ethanol processes and are moving toward commercial production. Freedom from corn ethanol may be in sight.