A Tank Of Poplar Please: ZeaChem Breaks Ground On Biorefinery

Is that unleaded?

Bio-refining company ZeaChem Inc. broke ground June 2 on a cellulosic fuel plant in Boardman, Ore. The new facility’s focus will be on making transportation fuel from fast-growing poplar trees in the Northwest, along with the chemical ethyl acetate, which is used in myriad products.

The federal government and many businesses have been interested for some time in making fuel from non-food plants. Forest giant Weyerhaeuser has teamed with oil behemoth Chevron to study the prospect, though nothing very solid has come from it. Weyerhaeuser is leaning toward harvest grass from its tree farms, rather than using the trees themselves, which are best suited for lumber.

The Boardman facility is different in that it will be using poplar. There is a small market for poplar for hardwood and furniture, but it doesn’t reflect the tree’s possibilities. Poplar is one of the fastest growing trees in the U.S. In certain states, the trees can grow up to 10 feet a year, and they can become so abundant they annoy foresters trying to get to more lucrative wood.

This new bio-refinery is expected to have a capacity of 250,000 gallons a year. In a press release, ZeaChem says success of the Boardman plant will lead the company to build more commercial scale bio-refineries.

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