[OPINION] The Ethanol in Your Gas Tank Should Come from a Tree in a Maine Forest
– by Kevin Raye, May 12, 2016, Bangor Daily News
A strong and sustainable forestry sector is a hallmark of Maine’s economy. In 2015, Maine produced enough paper, wood and forest products to account for 27 percent of the state’s exports and drive hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.
Yet our forestry sector is in serious trouble, as mill closures and job losses reverberate through Maine’s economy. The urgency of finding innovative new uses and new markets to maximize the economic productivity of our forests is indisputable.
Fortunately, this challenge comes at a time when new renewable energy technologies are poised to drive demand for biomass both in the U.S. and abroad. So our forests are well-positioned to nurture growth and well-paying jobs in both export opportunities, with the state-of-the-art bulk conveyor system at the Port of Eastport, and with the development of home-grown green energy production in Maine.
Unfortunately, this vision for producing clean renewable energy on the domestic front is far from guaranteed. But support for the Renewable Fuels Standard, a decade-old federal policy responsible for driving innovation in how we convert wood and plant matter into sustainable low-carbon biofuels such as ethanol, is one way we can help Maine’s forestry sector rebound.
Thanks to these new technologies, cellulosic ethanol — a clean biofuel alternative to gasoline — can be distilled from Maine trees that are unsuitable for building materials, as well as the leftovers from existing wood and lumber operations. Our own University of Maine, in fact, is a prime mover in the field of sustainable forest biofuels, biochemicals and biopolymers.
While many people automatically think of corn as the raw material for ethanol production, trees, like corn, are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. (In fact, so is crude oil.)
Ethanol already makes up 10 percent of the fuel we use in the U.S., and under the Renewable Fuels Standard, ethanol will continue to replace additional barrels of foreign oil each year. As a substitute for gasoline, corn-based ethanol cuts carbon emissions by 44 percent, according to Argonne National Laboratory, while advanced ethanol from sources such as wood offer even greater reductions in emissions. Each year, the technology is getting better, allowing ethanol producers to increase efficiency and generate additional clean fuel from plant matter that was previously unusable.