U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last Friday that Red Shield Environmental in Old Town has been awarded a U.S. Department of Energy grant of up to $30 million. The grant will support the development of a cellulosic biorefinery at the Old Town pulp mill.
The project to be funded by DOE involves a partnership among Red Shield Environmental, the University of Maine and American Process Incorporated. The partners will create, at the former paper mill site in Old Town, a near-commercial-scale demonstration plant to make ethanol from forest-based biomass.
“Maine has tremendous potential for the production of energy from renewable resources,” Governor Baldacci said. “But this project has an added benefit. It holds the potential to revitalize our state’s paper industry. It’s my hope that the technology developed in Old Town by Red Shield and the University of Maine can help other mills around the state become more diversified and more profitable.”
In awarding the grant, DOE said that the process developed by Red Shield and the University of Maine Orono has been proven on a laboratory and pilot scale. The DOE grant will allow Red Shield to prove the viability of the process at the plant level and to commercialize the process that allows for the extraction of hemicelluloses from wood chips as part of the pulp-making process.
“This technology will allow Maine to lead the way in the production of cellulosic ethanol,” Governor Baldacci said. “Because the energy resource is produced as part of the pulp- making process, it adds no additional strain to the wood basket and makes more efficient use of the wood fiber.”
The project will continue the research work being conducted by UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute.
The award is the largest grant ever involving University of Maine research and one of the largest for any academic or research organization in the state.
The grant award to Red Shield was one of three announced by DOE last Friday. The competitive selection of three projects in which DOE plans to invest up to $86 million over four years to support the development of small-scale cellulosic biorefineries also included projects in Vonore, Tennessee, and Washington County, Kentucky.
The three small-scale biorefinery projects will test novel conversion technologies to provide data necessary to commercialize full-scale biorefinery technologies. These biorefineries will operate at a level equivalent to about 10 percent of a full-scale commercial plant. Expected to be operational within four years, the selected small-scale non-food-based biorefineries projects will produce liquid transportation fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, as well as bio-based chemicals and bio-based products used in industrial applications.
By refining a variety of regional non-food-based feedstocks — including agricultural wastes such as corn stover, forest waste including sawdust and paper pulp, and energy crops, like switchgrass — cellulosic biofuels can be sustainably produced in nearly every region of the country. According to scientists at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, compared with conventional gasoline, ethanol produced from cellulosic materials requires as much as 90 percent less fossil energy to produce and has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 86 percent over the lifecycle.