I reported earlier on the 1.5 million acres of beetle-killed trees in Colorado. The U.S. Department of Energy has just awarded a $30 million grant to Suncor Energy and Lignol Innovations to build a small-scale biorefinery to turn this dead timber into fuel. The grant is part of a U.S. commitment to produce 30 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2020 from a variety of sources.
The planned cellulosic ethanol plant may find a home in Commerce City next to Suncor’s oil and gas refinery. The grant money will cover approximately one third of the projected $88 million cost for the plant. As a condition of the grant, the plant must be completed by 2012.
The process distills the natural sugars in trees to make ethanol fuel. The wood is processed into pulp, and then the pulp is broken down by enzymes into sugars that are fermented and distilled. It takes less energy to produce ethanol from wood than corn, but it’s more expensive because the enzymes are expensive.
This effort provides a novel means to turn the blighted Colorado landscape into a positive gain. The use of the dead timber for fuel would also accelerate forest renewal and remove a portion of the fire danger.
This isn’t the only effort to put a positive spin on the lost forests. A large plant in Kremmling is turning the wood into pellets for pellet stoves, that are more efficient and cleaner burning than fire places. The timber is also being milled for lumber, and there’s an effort underway to get the timber designated as sustainable. The tagline for that effort is, “Be Green, Build Blue.” The blue refers to the color of the wood, because it becomes blue from a fungus that the beetles carry.
Learn more about how these dead trees are rejuvenating Colorado’s timber industry in a story from the Denver Post.