Grant means pulp based ethanol at the pumps

The production of commercial ethanol takes a big step forward as gas stations open to accommodate the resource

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Article & photo by Ramona du Houx

Red Shield Environmental in Old Town has been awarded a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant of up to $30 million. The grant will support the development of a cellulosic biorefinery at the pulp mill, which will also be a commercial demonstration facility.

PHOTO RIGHT: "Two million gallons of ethanol, in addition to the pulp, can be produced without reducing the amount or quality of the pulp," said Professor Hemant Pendse of UM’s research center

"I think that there are many places around Maine, where there are pulp mills that will benefit form this technology," said Professor Hemant Pendse, director of the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department. "Cellulosic biomass is a highly undervalued and underutilized energy asset. Ethanol from cellulose can substitute for petroleum in many manufacturing processes such as plastic and could contribute in a major way to reducing our dependency on oil while helping to address climate change by reducing our need to burn fossil fuels. This has global significance."

With an unpredicted food shortage globally, some of which is being blamed on the production of ethanol from corn, a new technology that relies on a Maine’s sustainable wood resource is timely.

E10 fuel, ethanol corn fuel, began arriving in May at pumps in the Portland area and will expand to other areas of Maine by summer.

The rapid appearance of ethanol has taken some by surprise. But it’s a welcome one. With oil prices continuing to skyrocket this 10 percent ethanol blended fuel is less expensive and burns cleaner than normal gas. Federal subsidies of five cents per gallon have created an incentive for companies that produce and market the product. In the near future Maine will be producing ethanol out of wood pulp at Red Shield Environmental.

Not only should the technology benefit our pocketbooks at the gas pump, it could jumpstart Maine’s paper industry.

"Maine has tremendous potential for the production of energy from renewable resources," said Governor Baldacci. "But this project has an added benefit. It holds the potential to revitalize our state’s paper industry. It’s my hope that the technology developed in Old Town by Red Shield and the University of Maine can help other mills around the state become more diversified and more profitable."

In a highly competitive process, the grant award to Red Shield is one of only three announced by the U.S. DOE. Projects in Vonore, TN and Washington County, KY were also awarded grants.

"This grant is great news for Maine and for America. The project will help encourage a new, robust industry for our state, one that combines innovative research from the University of Maine with the strength of Maine’s enormous wood resources," said U.S. Representative Tom Allen. "As a Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, I will continue to support efforts like this that move our nation away from fossil fuels to homegrown, clean, renewable energy."

In awarding the grant, DOE said that the process developed by Red Shield and the University of Maine Orono has been proven on a laboratory and pilot scale.

"I am pleased to see investment in energy and fuel technology that could not only help solve our nation’s energy challenges but could potentially prove very beneficial to Maine’s economy," said Congressman Mike Michaud. "As we move forward with innovative energy technologies, it is important that we do so in a sustainable and environmentally sound way."

Cellulosic ethanol is an alternative fuel made with nonfood-based feedstocks, including agricultural wastes such as corn stover, forest waste, including sawdust and paper pulp and switchgrass. The grant will allow Red Shield to prove the viability of the process at the manufacturing level and to commercialize the process that allows for the extraction of hemicelluloses from wood chips as part of the pulp-making process.

With the new technology Pendse said, "Two million gallons of ethanol, in addition to the pulp, can be produced without reducing the amount or quality of the pulp. There is no waste; we use everything nature has provided us. We’re putting Maine on the map."

Just last February, Red Shield received a $500,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute to support the development of the extraction process.

"This technology will allow Maine to lead the way in the production of cellulosic ethanol," said the governor. "Because the energy resource is produced as part of the pulp-making process, it adds no additional strain to the wood basket and makes more efficient use of the wood fiber."