Ethanol and Biodiesel in Oregon

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Burning fossil fuel for transportation makes up about 33 percent of Oregon's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the NW Environmental Business Council. The United States is the world's largest producer of ethanol fuel since 2005 Wikipedia. The U.S. produced 10.6 billion U.S. liquid gallons of ethanol fuel in 2009, and together with Brazil, both countries accounted for 89% of the world's production in that year. Ethanol fuel is mainly used in the U.S. as an oxygenate to gasoline in the form of low-level blends, and to a lesser extent, as fuel for E85 flex-fuel vehicles. Most ethanol fuel in the U.S. is produced using corn. Brazil uses sugar cane.

Ethanol Plant on Columbia

The Cascade Grain Products ethanol plant in Clatskanie (above), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, just seven months after it opened. The Clatskanie plant, the state’s largest ethanol production facility, has sat dormant for nearly two years. Now a new owner hopes to attract a buyer for a working ethanol plant.

Corn ethanol, widely tooted as a viable alternative energy approach ten years ago, has not achieved the success its backers hoped. The costs of producing corn ethanol were high, it required too much land and the benefits were slim.

Cellulosic ethanol has one ingredient that Oregon has plenty of -- wood. It is now being examined as a competitive energy resource, but currently it requires extra financial support to develop the infrastructure necessary to the technology. Woodchips and the byproducts of lawn and tree maintenance are some of the more popular cellulosic materials for ethanol production. By contrast, corn ethanol most frequently uses natural gas to provide energy for the process, and may not reduce GHG emissions at all depending on how the starch-based feedstock is produced, says Wikipedia.

Biodiesel refers to a vegetable oil- or animal fat-based diesel fuel. Biodiesel is meant to be used in standard diesel engines and is thus distinct from the vegetable and waste oils used to fuel converted diesel engines. Biodiesel can be used alone, or blended with petrodiesel. Biodiesel that is 100% (unblended) is referred to as B100, while 20% biodiesel is labeled B20. B100 generally cost more than petrodiesel except where local governments provide a tax incentive or subsidy.

The Grease Bus

Vegetable oil works as an alternative fuel for diesel engines and is distinguished from biodiesel in that it has been discarded directly from a restaurant. Portland's Grease Bus, which takes riders to Mt Hood 6 days a week for $10-$15, fills up using vegetable oil from Portland restaurants. Most diesel engines need modifications to use vegetable oil, typically pre-heating it, otherwise poor atomization, incomplete combustion and carbonization may result.

In 2007, Imperium Renewables of Seattle built a biodiesel plant at the Port of Grays Harbor that hoped to produce as much as 100 million gallons of biodiesel fuel made from plants and vegetable material annually. The market dried up. It is the largest production facility in the United States and the second largest facility overall.

The SeQuential Web site ( lists biodiesel sites and about 60 Oregon businesses and agencies with biodiesel-powered fleets --wineries, landscapers, contractors, the Eugene public works department, Cross Creek Trucking, Metro, Powells .com, Hoodoo ski resort, and groundskeeping vehicles at Reed College.

The community aspect of biodiesel attracts many people, and those folks should contact biodiesel cooperatives such as Portland's GoBiodiesel Cooperative, Green Drop Garage, Flower Power Biodiesel Co-op in Salem or Grease Works! in Corvallis. GoBiodiesel Cooperative makes about 200 gallons a month and is in full fundraising mode to build a new plant that will at least quadruple output. Members pay about $2.25 per gallon, plus a one-time $100 membership fee.

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