Boardman to get new biorefinery

By Kevin McCullen, Herald staff writerJune 3, 2010 

BOARDMAN -- A biorefinery capable of producing up to 250,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually will open next year in Boardman, bringing jobs to the Oregon community and moving the nation a step closer to achieving a renewable and clean energy future.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined other federal and local officials and the founders and president of ZeaChem Inc. at a ground breaking Wednesday for a company refinery that will use poplar trees from nearby GreenWood Resources tree farm.

ZeaChem says the biofuel created from its process avoids the problems associated with traditional and cellulosic ethanol processes and produces up to 98 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline.

Colorado-based ZeaChem is leasing 8 acres at the Port of Morrow to build the $73 million demonstration plant biorefinery. It has an option to lease another 25 acres, where it hopes eventually to construct a large-scale biofuel refinery that could produce from 25 million to 50 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year.

The plant will create 75 direct jobs during construction and 20 more permanent jobs to operate the plant, according to Zeachem. And Oregon's Employment Department estimates the plant will lead to the creation of 167 more indirect jobs in Morrow County alone.

Cellulosic ethanol generated from wood, grasses and other inedible parts of plants skirts the "food vs. fuel" controversy surrounding the manufacturing of corn-based ethanol, according to ZeaChem.

And in light of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wrought by a collapsed British Petroleum drilling platform, clean energy produced in Oregon "charts a different kind of energy future," Wyden said.

"Over the last few weeks, we have seen the dark side of our reliance on fossil fuel play out in the Gulf of Mexico," the senator said.

ZeaChem, which has invested more than $20 million of its own capital, also has secured funding from private sources for the project. It also obtained about $25 million in stimulus money from the Department of Energy as part of the department's commitment to develop biofuels, said DOE's Valri Lightner.

"As our nation emerges from recession, we'll have more ZeaChem stories to tell in Oregon and across the country," Kulongoski said.

Tim Eggeman, who founded ZeaChem with Dan Verser, said the public-private partnership is indicative of the support he sees for entrepreneurs in this country, and the resolve to create a renewable and sustainable energy future.

"We are going to change the status quo. We are going to bring alternative energy into the mainstream," Eggeman said.

The fast-growing hybrid poplars at the sprawling GreenWood Resources tree farm can be cut at 2 or 3 years old and then will resprout, said Jim Imbler, ZeaChem president and chief executive officer.

Eventually, a commercial scale biorefinery in Boardman also could use diseased or fallen trees culled from the Umatilla National Forest and other forests under the Oregon Eastside Forests Protection Act, which Wyden introduced in the Senate last year, Kulongoski said.

Following the ceremony at ZeaChem's future home, Kulongoski, Wyden and their staffs traveled to an area southeast of Arlington to observe work under way on another Oregon alternative energy project: Shepherds Flat Wind Farm.

Shepherds Flat is expected to have 338 wind turbines with 845 megawatts of capacity, which would make it the largest land-based wind energy project in the world, according to Wyden's office. The project is expected to create up to 700 construction jobs.

The job creation and clean energy aspects of the two Oregon projects also represent what Wyden calls a "game changer" for rural communities.

"We can have (an) economy in rural Oregon that is not at the mercy of geopolitics," he said.

-- Kevin McCullen: 582-1535; kmccullen@tricityherald.com

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