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Switchgrass harvest for ‘grassoline’ plant

More indications that North Americans are increasingly accepting of plant-based biofuels are seen in this story from Eastern Tennessee, where ethanol processed from switchgrass is a 'growing concern'.

November 28, 2008  By Delta Farm Press

November 28, 2008 

Farmers in east Tennessee are harvesting 723 acres of switchgrass this fall which a new cellulosic ethanol plant will turn into ‘grassoline

The plant, which is under construction at the Niles Ferry Industrial Park in Vonore, Tenn., about 50 kilometres southeast of Knoxville, is part of the University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, a state-sponsored plan whose objective is to advance a biofuels economy in the state.


“Our goal is to go from the farm to the filling station,” said Kelly Tiller, director of external operations, Office of Bioenergy Programs, University of Tennessee. “We want to demonstrate farm production, conversion to ethanol and end use.” Tiller spoke at the West Tennessee Alternative Crop Conference at the Fogelman Executive Conference Center at the University of Memphis.

UT created a for-profit company called Genera Energy to construct and operate the new facility with a private company called DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol. Ground was broken on the Vonore plant Oct. 14. When completed, the principle product of the biorefinery will be “grassoline,” ethanol fuel derived from plant material such as switchgrass, wood chips and other forest and agricultural biomass. Expected capacity is 250,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually.

“We’re doing this in phases,” Tiller said. “Switchgrass was planted on 723 acres in 2008, and we’re in the process of harvesting that now. We’re going to contract for another 2000 acres this coming spring, and 3000 acres for the spring of 2010.”

The acreage is expected to produce more switchgrass than the biorefinery can process, according to Tiller, “but we think this is a good opportunity for farmers to get the biomass growing in advance of there being lots of cellulosic ethanol opportunities.”

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