OSU researcher highlights public, private biomass work in Ore.

By Erin Voegele | January 18, 2012

Public and private enterprises in Oregon are working diligently to develop and expand a local biobased economy. During a presentation at the 2012 Pacific West Biomass Conference & Trade Show, Christine Kelly, an associate professor of chemical, biological and environmental engineering at Oregon State University, outlined the achievements made by private companies, research institutions and universities in the biopower, biomass, and biofuels sectors.

Kelly opened her discussion by highlighting the work of private companies within her state. Regarding biopower, Kelly said that Portland General Electric in Boardman recently came to an agreement with state authorities to phase out the use of coal at its power plant by 2020. As an alternative, Kelly said, the company has been considering fueling the plant with giant cane. Potland General Electric has been working with several entities within the state to develop the biomass feedstock, specifically by working with farmers and evaluating logistics and infrastructure needs.

Another Oregon company, HM3 Energy, is working to construct a plant to torrify biomass. The resulting fuel could be used by coal-fired power plants to offset the use of some fossil fuel. According to Kelly, construction of the plant is set to begin, as preliminary investigations have been completed.

Greenwood Resources is another company located within the state that is involved in the biomass sector. Greenwood, which grows poplars, boasts the largest tree farm in the U.S. While the resulting woody biomass has traditionally been used to produce wood for moldings, the farm recently agreed to supply feedstock to ZeaChem, which converts the biomass to produce acetic acid and ethyl acetate. The company also eventually plans to produce cellulosic ethanol.

Meanwhile, Kelly said Trillium FiberFuels Inc. is working on enzymatic isomerization. Essentially they are looking at how to increase yields by utilizing five-carbon sugars with traditional yeast. The process converts xylose so traditional yeast can ferment it.

The state of Oregon is also home to several first-generation biofuels companies, including Summit Foods Inc., which converts its fruit waste into ethanol. She noted another company, SeQuential Pacific, operates a 17 MMgy biodiesel plant in Salem that utilizes waste cooking oil as feedstock.

In addition to these private enterprises, Kelly noted that Oregon State University, Portland State University and the University of Oregon are contributing to the biomass sector by pursuing research-oriented work in the areas of advanced ethanol development, biopower technology, biodiesel technology, woody biomass logistics, feedstock agronomy, biofuel enzymes, micro- and nano-scale technologies, and algae physiology and cultivation.