Michigan Tech Helps State Get Cellulosic Ethanol Plant

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

The state that gave birth to the American automobile industry is about to become a leader in development of the next generation of biofuels. Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm announced today that the Massachusetts-based Mascoma Corporation will build a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant to manufacture automotive biofuel from woody plant materials in Michigan.

Michigan Technological University's expertise and research leadership played a key role in the Massachusetts-based bio-energy company's decision to come to Michigan. At Michigan Tech, a "Wood to Wheels" initiative is already pooling the brainpower of research leaders to create a clean-burning, energy-efficient and cost-effective biofuel, using an abundant local resource: trees.

The University's Wood to Wheels project includes development of an automotive engine to make best use of the wood-based ethanol. Mascoma plans to use Michigan Tech's state-of-the-art automotive engineering laboratories to test its biofuels.

"We're honored that this leader in low-carbon cellulosic biomass-to-ethanol production regards Michigan Tech's research so highly," said University President Glenn D. Mroz. "One of the goals of Wood to Wheels is to work with industry to facilitate the rapid transfer of technology to the marketplace, and this partnership with an industry leader like Mascoma will help make that happen."

Mascoma will collaborate with Michigan Tech and with Michigan State University, which just received a $50 million award from the Department of Energy to partner in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. The company chose Michigan based on the expertise of its two university partners and the abundance of forests and non-food agricultural materials.

Most current biofuel plants convert corn, soy, or other food crops into fuel. Mascoma's Michigan plant will make ethanol from wood chips and other non-edible agricultural crops or byproducts.

"Mascoma's decision to choose Michigan is helping us achieve a key part of our economic plan, making our state a leader in alternative energy production," Granholm said. "Cellulosic is the next step in wide-scale ethanol production, and this puts Michigan on the leading edge of technology that will create good-paying jobs for Michigan citizens."

The company is in the process of identifying a site for the plant. Mascoma anticipates investing up to $150 million in the facility, which is expected to employ 20 to 40 full-time employees and to create more than 100 construction jobs, up to 300 forestry jobs, another 150-200 transportation and maintenance jobs.

Michigan Tech also will be involved in workforce development for the new plant, including training the next generation of scientists and engineers to work in the biofuels industry and improvements in biomass harvesting and processing technologies.

Michigan Technological University is a leading public research university conducting research, developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering, forest resources and environmental sciences, computer sciences, technology, business and economics, natural sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.