Boardman Biofuels To Power Jet Aircraft

What began in 2007 as a project to grow poplar trees for a Boardman sawmill and turn some of the biomass into ethanol has now become a federally-backed effort to produce tens of thousands of gallons of biofuels for jet aircraft.

In January 2012, the federal government announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture would give Zeachem, Inc. a $235 million loan guaranty to help it build its $390 million biorefinery in Boardman. The plant, which will produce cellulosic ethanol, will create 65 local jobs and 118 construction jobs, the company said.

In late 2011, ZeaChem began operating a $34 million "demonstration" biorefinery at its Boardman site. The first volumes of bio-based jet and diesel fuels are expected to be produced in test quantities in 2013 and bio-based gasoline will follow in 2015, the company told Sustainable Business Oregon. In the fall of 2011, the company shared a $40 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to develop the jet biofuel. The company's partners in the project include Oregon State University, the University of Washington, Portland-based GreenWood Resources, Washington State University, the University of California at Davis, Evergreen State College and the Agricultural Center for Excellence at Walla Walla Community College.

About $12 million of the grant will go to ZeaChem to develop additional processing capacity to process hybrid poplar into 50,000 gallons of jet biofuel per year. ZeaChem's demonstration plant is expected to employ employ about 35 people—10 more positions being added by the USDA grant—in addition to the 75 construction jobs created by its development.

Jim Imbler, president and CEO of ZeaChem, told Sustainable Business Oregon that the company is working on the design and lining up the financing for a full-scale plant—with a capacity 100 times the size of the demonstration plant—to also be based in Boardman. He expects that plant to come online by the end of 2014. It will directly employ about 65 people.

Earlier in 2011, ZeaChem benefited from the USDA's Biomass Crop Assistant Program. The BCAP, as the program is known, sets out to address one of the biggest problems for biofuel producers: the availability of affordable biofuel feedstock.

The Boardman refinery produces ethyl acetate, the chemical precursor to ethanol. In 2010, ZeaChem received a $25 million federal stimulus grant awarded by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Biomass Program. The plant was one of 19 recipients of $564 million in such grants nationwide. The company utilized the U.S. Department of Energy grant to construct and operate the 250,000-gallon-per-year biorefinery.

In the original 2007 project, the Collins Company received a $250,000 loan from the Governor's Strategic Reserve Fund to purchase equipment associated with the construction of a $35 million sawmill and planer operation in conjunction with GreenWood Resources' 25,000-acre poplar tree farm in Boardman. The tree farm provides a sustainable supply of material to the mill.

In late 2009, Greenwood partnered with ZeaChem, Inc., based in Lakewood, Colorado, to provide about 15% of the harvest as boiler fuel and cellulose material for ZeaChem's planned cellulose ethanol plant. The sawmill and tree farm were projected to employ a total of 150 workers when operating at full capacity.