Wood-based ethanol factory sought in Mich.


LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan hopes to open one of the nation’s first commercial ethanol fuel factories using wood as the main energy source, state officials said Thursday.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Mascoma Corp. plans to build a cellulosic ethanol factory in Michigan, taking advantage of the state’s large forest industry. It could be running by late 2008 or early 2009.

The factory could be a key step in Michigan’s efforts to become a national leader in the alternative fuels industry, and replace lost automotive and other manufacturing jobs, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said.

“We have a unique position in the nation to be able to capitalize on our natural resources,” said Granholm, adding the factory would put Michigan “in the race” to be first to produce ethanol from wood on a commercial scale.

Granholm said ethanol projects eventually could help lower gasoline prices, reduce pollution and lessen dependence on foreign oil.

Mascoma officials said the total investment in the Michigan plant could top $100 million. But other details – including the site, number of jobs and tax incentives to aid the company – have not been completed.

The factory could be in northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, where the state’s forests are concentrated, said Mascoma CEO Bruce Jamerson.

Jamerson is a Michigan native. The company’s work will be aided by research from Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University.

President Bush has pushed for new research on cellulosic ethanol and biomass plants, saying it’s part of an overall strategy to improve the nation’s energy security and reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

Michigan already has several ethanol factories running or in the planning stages. But those primarily are based on corn as the main energy source.

The Mascoma project would use wood and possibly other non-crop products such as switchgrass.

“It’s really cutting edge,” Jamerson said.

Jamerson said wood-based ethanol burns even cleaner than the corn-based fuel. One cord of wood – roughly 5,000 to 6,000 pounds – can produce about 150 gallons of fuel, Jamerson said.

Georgia is trying to open a factory similar to the one planned in Michigan. An operation opened earlier this year in eastern Wyoming that produces fuel made from ponderosa pine wood. The fuel is expected to be sold for blending with gasoline and diesel fuel as an octane enhancer.

On the Net:

Mascoma Corp: http://www.mascoma.com

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm: http://www.michigan.gov/gov

AP-ES-07-19-07 1716EDT