Earlier today Governor Ed Rendell announced the development of an ethanol plant in Westmoreland County that will produce ethanol fuel from a number of non-food sources such as municipal waste. Coskata, a company that is a partner with GM, says that it will produce a pilot plant that will be capable of producing 40,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, with the goal of producing 40 million to 400 million gallons once the plant is fully scaled. Some benefits of Coskata's technology and this demonstration plant include the following:
1. Coskata's patented process can produce ethanol $1 cheaper per gallon than corn based ethanol
2. Coskata's process yields 100 gallons of fuel from 1 ton of feedstock (waste, biomass, switchgrass, etc) compared to 67 gallons from a ton of corn
3. The E85 blended fuel produced by the plant will result in an 84% reduction in CO2 emissions when compared to conventional gasoline fuel
4. The demonstration plant will employ 20 workers while a full scale plant would employ 100 to 150 workers
So what has to happen next? GM is going to leverage their partnership with Coskata to use this fuel to expand their flex fuel vehicle line. For Southwestern PA to capitalize on the emergence of biofuels startups in this region we must start looking towards investing in an infrastructure that will allow us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil. I am in favor of going 100% fossil free with our automobiles but 85% would be a step in the right direction.
The Governor's energy independence strategy calls for 1 billion gallons of biofuels to be produced and consumed within the commonwealth by the year 2017. This is great, especially if we don't have to use corn or other food crops to get to that magic number. It is good to see the Governor is back to work after the last month and a half of seeing him on all the news shows and campaign events for Senator Clinton. If Senator Clinton ends up being elected President I could see Rendell's hard work rewarded with the post of Energy Secretary.