Stimulating trees and biofuel growth

Michigan State Roundup

Published May 1, 2009  | May 2009 issue

The federal stimulus is hoping to kick-start many things, and funding is trickling to the U.P. to increase the horsepower of biofuel research at the Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center, a part of Michigan State University and located in Escanaba. In mid-March, the center received a $1.4 million grant to help scientists study barriers to forest-based cellulosic ethanol, which would use trees and other forest raw materials rather than corn and other food-based inputs.

The grant adds to other efforts to build a foundation for cellulosic ethanol in the U.P., which has a wealth of forest and forest byproducts from lumber and other wood-based industries. Last summer, for example, the Boston startup Mascoma Corp. announced its intention to build a $250 million to $300 million cellulosic plant in Chippewa County that could produce 40 million gallons annually. The announcement was enough to reportedly spur $2 million in research funding for MSU and several partners.

In March, Mascoma reported that it continues to seek funding for the plant. To date, it has secured $26 million from the Department of Energy and $23.5 million from the state of Michigan.

Ronald A. Wirtz