Cellulosic ethanol closer to commercial production?

Cellulosic ethanol, long hailed as a piece of the puzzle for helping the nation solve its energy woes, moved a step closer to commercial production with the opening of the ZeaChem Inc. plant this week in Boardman, Ore.

The plant initially will produce ethyl acetate, a precursor to cellulosic ethanol, company officials said in a statement. ZeaChem intends to add cellulosic production next year, using a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

Cellulosic is the next step in biofuel movement. The technology extracts and ferments sugars from such sources as trees and grasses to produce the alcohol. Commercial production of the more traditional ethanol -- made from corn -- has suffered some recent swings in the market.

Pacific Ethanol Inc. officials said in April that they hope the company's restructuring plan will enable it to gain enough liquidity to restart production at its ethanol manufacturing plants in Stockton and Madera.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski liked ZeaChem's plan. "ZeaChem’s biorefinery in Boardman is another example of our effort to attract green companies and advance the development of cellulosic ethanol as a viable renewable energy resource," he said. "Companies like ZeaChem will help drive Oregon’s economy in the 21st century as well as move us toward greater energy security and independence."