Renewable energy | Agriculture | Ecotrope

Feds offer biomass funds to Northwest growers

Ecotrope | July 26, 2011 4:37 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:36 p.m.

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The feds are offering to foot part of the bill to grow more poplar trees in Oregon so they can be turned into ethanol at ZeaChem's new refinery in Boardman.

The feds are offering to foot part of the bill to grow more poplar trees in Oregon so they can be turned into ethanol at ZeaChem's new refinery in Boardman.

Farmers in Oregon and Washington will get federal money to grow poplars and camelina as biomass crops, according to an announcement today from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The crops will be used to make biodiesel at Beaver Biodiesel in Albany and ZeaChem in Boardman, and alternative jet fuel at AltAir Fuels in Seattle.

The funds will come through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, a 2008 Farm Bill creation that subsidizes non-food crops for liquid biofuels. The program invites crop producers and biofuel manufacturers to team up and apply for funds. It reimburses growers for up to 75 percent of their start-up costs as well as additional assistance for collection, harvest and transportation to manufacturing plants.

How much money will be available to the Northwest crop producers? That information won’t be available until later this afternoon, according to Vilsack’s press office. Overall, the administration is putting $45 million into this biomass push, but that number also includes money for projects in several other states.

In the meantime, here’s what we know:

  • Camelina can be turned into jet fuel: Camelina is an oilseed rotation crop for wheat that can be grown on marginally productive land. Biofuel from camelina is an ideal jet fuel substitute. Up to 51,000 acres of camelina will get a boost from this new round of biomass subsidies. Beaver Biodiesel will buy the crops and turn them into biodiesel, and AltAir will turn them into a jet fuel alternative.

  • Poplar trees can be turned into ethanol: The biofuel manufacturer ZeaChem, which is starting up a biomass conversion facility in Boardman this year, will buy hybrid poplar trees grown in Oregon and turn them into ethanol. The federal biomass crop program will support up to 7,000 acres of hybrid poplar trees as part of the USDA’s Wood-to-Energy Initiative. The feds say this could boost a “forest restoration economy” that uses forestry for energy feedstock and creates rural jobs.

  • The Oregon counties with farms that will be eligible for assistance under the biomass program are: Jefferson, Klamath, Umatilla, Union, Morrow and Wasco.

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