Monday, August 06, 2007

Forests could fuel our future

Maine Today
Rep. John McDonough
August 5, 2007

Rising gas prices are pressuring Mainers. Nearly every station
has been selling regular for around $3. But rising energy costs
are attacking pocketbooks and wallets in more places than just
the local gas station.

We haven't seen much of it in Maine, but the use of E-85
ethanol, a mixture of conventional gasoline and corn-based
ethanol, is on the rise.

The increase in demand for ethanol has doubled corn prices
over the past year, triggering an upsurge in the price of such
food staples as dairy and meat products.

Chicken farmers have seen their cost of doing business climb
nearly 40 percent due to the soaring price of feed corn.

These sudden increases pose a real problem for Maine families
on a tight grocery budget. To make matters worse, they also
don't see the rewards of corn-based biofuels because they are
not available locally.

However, the tide may soon be turning. Researchers at the
University of Maine have developed technology to convert wood
byproduct into cellulosic ethanol.

This process holds tremendous promise for the Maine economy
and the nation as a whole.

With a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation
and the possibility of more federal dollars coming soon, Maine
researchers are ready to take the next step to make wood-based
ethanol commercially viable.

If successful, Maine, with its immense forests, could become the
Saudi Arabia of biofuels.

ADVANTAGES OF WOOD

Using wood for ethanol is attractive on many levels.

For one, it takes much less energy to grow trees. Fertilizer is not
required, and Mother Nature takes care of irrigation. Trees also
are available year-round and do not come and go with the
growing season.

Wood is not a food source and it has a higher energy yield than
corn. Unlike with corn-based ethanol, you get more energy out
of the process than you put in.

Rising fuel prices are not the only reason this development is
critical and timely. In the age of terrorism, we find ourselves
reliant on foreign oil from countries run by hostile regimes,
giving them the power to manipulate -- or cripple -- our
economy. Energy independence isn't just about price security, it
is about national security.

As a nation, we should embark on a focused and determined
path to maximize alternative energy sources and break free of
our dependence on foreign oil. Maine is already playing its part,
and it would be wise for the federal government to provide the
needed funds to our researchers to continue their
groundbreaking work.

The United States is way behind in breaking our addiction to
foreign oil.

Brazil started its ethanol program in 1975 and is now reaping
the benefits of a society that runs mostly on biofuels made from
sugar cane. Over 90 percent of cars sold there in 2006 were
flex-fuel vehicles able to burn both gasoline and ethanol.

France is producing nearly three-quarters of its energy from
nuclear power and is building more reactors to export energy
throughout the European Union. Icelanders are harnessing
geothermal energy for most of their electricity.

When we fell behind the Russians after they sent Sputnik into
orbit in 1957, our country rose to the challenge with a
tremendous effort to gain dominance in the area of space
technology. We created NASA, launched the Apollo project and
sent the first man to walk on the moon.

That's the kind of energy and spirit we need to reach the goal of
total energy independence.

The development of cellulosic ethanol will be a boon for Maine's
economy. Our paper mills can use the leftover wood they usually
burn or send to landfills for ethanol creation instead.

Processing plants, refineries and infrastructure for delivery will
all need to be built. Loggers and tree farmers will be in high
demand again. Scientists and engineers will be needed to
constantly refine the conversion process.

Imagine how much a tank of ethanol would cost at the pump if it
only had to be shipped from a plant in northern Maine instead of
from halfway around the world.

The state should make the critical investments necessary to put
Maine in the forefront of alternative energy development and
processing.

Cellulosic energy should be a key component of the energy
security and national security of our country. Maine can play a
vital role by leading the nation -- and eventually by fueling the
nation.

1 comment:

Randall said...

Thats all true. So why isn't anyone building a cellulosic ethanol refinery in Maine?