Papermakers, researchers lead the way in development
Posted: Dec. 8, 2007
Seventh part in an occasional series
Wisconsin already leads the nation in making electricity from cow manure. Now
it hopes to tap its farm and forest resources to develop the next generation of
biofuels in the race to curb global warming emissions.
Cars and trucks are the second-leading contributor of greenhouse gas
emissions after coal-fired power plants, so around the state, efforts are under
way to juice up production of renewable fuels.
But the main renewable fuel in Wisconsin and other states today - ethanol
derived from corn kernels - doesn't yield big savings in greenhouse gas
emissions because so much petroleum is needed to grow corn and refine it into
The quest to find a better fuel has led Madison researchers and northern
Wisconsin papermakers to hatch plans to make alternative fuels out of all sorts
of materials, from wood chips in the paper sector to switchgrass or poplar
The growing list of potential fuel sources can be summed up as ABC - anything
"While the state may not be able to match Silicon Valley as a high-tech
leader, it could be the Cellulose Prairie and Forest for biopower and biofuels,"
environmental consultant Brett Hulsey wrote in a recent report.
The fuels being developed hold the dual promises of reducing dependence on
imported oil and curtailing emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse
"So much of the attention has been on corn ethanol," said Judy Ziewacz,
executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence. "And I've
been trying to get the message out there for the state, 'No, we've got other
"The paper industry and the forestry industry are going to be big players,"
she said. "They need to be."
Biofuels that aren't made from corn kernels won a big boost last week when
the U.S. House of Representatives approved a renewable fuels standard as part of
an energy bill that also requires new cars to get significantly better gas
mileage. The energy bill stalled Friday in the U.S. Senate, however.
Interest in next-generation ethanol, known as cellulosic ethanol, is
percolating because of the federal government's goal to produce 35 billion
gallons of alternative fuels by 2017, said Masood Akhtar, president of the
nonprofit consulting firm CleanTech Partners Inc. in Middleton. The energy bill
in Congress is aiming for 36 billion gallons by 2022.
"All the experts that we talk with, they agree that corn-based ethanol can't
meet that goal," he said. Competition with feed mills has caused a handful of
corn ethanol plants to close recently, Akhtar said, underscoring the advantage
of energy crops that aren't eaten.