News Release

NW biofuels coming of age with $80 million in separate projects led by UW, WSU

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Washington

Poplar Plantations

image: GreenWood Resources' select poplar varieties grow very rapidly, one reason they are considered a promising feedstock for biofuels. Here at a GreenWood Resources plantation in Oregon, trees on the right show the rapid growth in the first year after planting, trees on the left are eight years old and 10 inches in diameter. view more 

Credit: GreenWood Resources

The University of Washington and Washington State University are leads for two separate grants of $40 million each that will use Pacific Northwest woody biomass to expand what's been a Midwest-centric biofuels industry into Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and northern California.

The five-year awards are the largest announced today (Sept. 28) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Grants of between $15 million and $25 million are going to each of three other projects led by institutions in Tennessee, Louisiana and Iowa.

"These grants will help us develop our own regional industry and create jobs," says Richard Gustafson, principal investigator of the UW-led grant and a UW professor of forest resources. "For the UW-led grant alone, a successful demonstration project over the next five years will lay the foundation to build five commercial biorefineries and cultivate 400,000 acres of poplars, resulting in 1,500 direct jobs, mostly in rural areas."

Regional biofuels will be made from "cellulosic" biomass that comes from the stems and stalks of trees or other plants, in contrast to ethanol made from soft starches, such as those from kernels of corn. The fuels produced are to be completely interchangeable and compatible with various fuels already used in cars, planes and diesel engines.

The UW-led project will focus on the commercial production of bio-based aviation, diesel and gasoline fuels using plantation-grown poplars as feedstock. The UW leads a consortium of more than 15 universities, businesses and other organizations. The key industrial partners are GreenWood Resources, Portland, the largest grower of poplar trees in North America, and ZeaChem, Lakewood, Colo., the developer of a cellulosic biorefinery system that produces advanced fuels and chemicals. ZeaChem is nearing completion of a 250,000-gallon-a-year refinery in Oregon.

The WSU-led project will focus on production of aviation fuel using mainly residue wood including wood that is typically burned in forests after harvests, is removed during thinning to improve forest health or ends up at landfills from such things as building demolitions, as well as some plantation-grown poplar. The WSU-led grant includes 16 universities, businesses and other organizations. Its key industrial partners are Weyerhaeuser, Federal Way, Wash., and Gevo, Englewood, Colo.

Emphasizing commercialization and sustainability, and ensuring that biorefineries and their feedstock are considered in tandem, makes these USDA grants different from past incentives and funding, UW's Gustafson says.

"ZeaChem appreciates the USDA's leadership in advancing the commercialization of cellulosic biofuels," said Jim Imbler, president and chief executive officer of ZeaChem, a key partner on the UW-led grant. "This grant will allow ZeaChem to further build out our economic and sustainable product platform beyond ethanol utilizing cellulosic feedstocks. ZeaChem and its partners will commercialize advanced 'drop-in' biofuels, for both commercial and military applications, throughout the Pacific Northwest region."

ZeaChem's 250,000-gallon-a-year demonstration biorefinery, being built in Boardman, Ore., begins operations later this year and will produce intermediate chemicals that are used in paints and solvents, as well as cellulosic ethanol for fuel blending. The USDA grant will fund the addition of process units to produce bio-based aviation, diesel and gasoline fuel beyond ethanol.

If successful, the goal is to one day have five or more biorefineries based on ZeaChem technologies, the UW-led proposal says.

Developing plantation tree varieties to best suit refineries that are built, as well as growing trees within a reasonable distance of refineries, are two keys to success, according to Jeff Nuss, president and chief executive officer of GreenWood Resources, a key partner on the UW-led grant.

GreenWood Resources manages 35,000 acres of hybrid poplar plantations in the Northwest, including acreage near ZeaChem's Oregon facility. Among other things, the grant will help GreenWood refine a model for growing poplar on lands not suitable for crops, a model to be used by the firm as well as other landowners, especially those in rural areas.

"GreenWood Resources appreciates USDA's recognition of our Forest Stewardship Council-certified hybrid poplar farms and efforts to develop non-food feedstock resources for the production of advanced biofuels and biobased chemicals," Nuss said. "We believe there is a great opportunity and future in serving this country's renewable energy goals through this grant."

It will take an estimated 400,000 acres of woody biomass to supply five commercial biorefineries proposed for the region once the five-year demonstration project proves successful, the proposal says.

Helping small- to medium-sized landowners understand if, and how, they should grow woody biomass for the new industry is a part of the UW project being led by Kevin Zobrist with the forest stewardship program of Washington State University Extension. Training and educating workers for the new industry is an effort being led by Mindy Stevens with the Agriculture Center of Excellence, based at Walla Walla Community College and representing more than 20 community colleges, and Kate Field with Oregon State University.

The UW-led project also includes researchers with University of California, Davis and University of Idaho as well as more than half a dozen other firms and organizations.

This kind of integrated, big-project research is what the UW's College of the Environment was created to foster, Gustafson says. UW's particular part is to assess the sustainability of the proposed enterprise to make sure there are no unintended consequences.

"Production of fuels and chemicals from biomass will be a huge industrial enterprise in the future," Gustafson said. "It is essential that it be sustainable from an economic, environmental and social point of view. The research lays the foundation for building a sustainable enterprise before large scale commercialization."


For more information:

UW – Richard Gustafson, 206-543-2790,
ZeaChem – Jim Imbler, contact via James Cortese, Edelman Public Relations, 650-533-8014,
Greenwood – Jeff Nuss, 971-533-7054,; and Brian Stanton, chief science officer, 971-533-7065,

News images:

Backgrounder: Additional information from team leads on UW-led biofuel grant

The University of Washington-led consortium, comprised of more than 15 universities, businesses and other subcontractors, has been set up as five teams:

Sustainability – led by the University of Washington
Biorefineries – led by ZeaChem, Lakewood, Colo.
Feedstock – led by GreenWood Resources, Portland
Extension, outreach to growers – led by Washington State University Extension
Education, K-12 through doctoral programs – led by the Agricultural Center of Excellence and Oregon State University

More about each team is below.

See end for other subcontractors and advisory committee members.

***Sustainability team***
Led by University of Washington
Sustainability must underpin commercialization
University of Washington's Rick Gustafson, lead of the overall project, is also the project's lead on sustainability, a team that will look at social, economic and
environmental effects. Life cycle analysis will be used to assess environmental impacts for all stages from the growing of feedstock through what happens when the fuel is used in vehicles. Energy and material inputs, and environmental emissions for all stages will be accounted for.

"The research will lay the foundation for building a sustainable enterprise before large scale commercialization occurs," Gustafson said. "We will be showing the way for others, reducing risk and attracting investors to participate in building a new regional industry."

"This represents groundbreaking work in developing renewable energy and is exactly what universities like ours should be doing to help the nation become more energy independent," UW President Michael Young said. "If successful, the effort will help revitalize the Pacific Northwest's forestry sector by establishing a sustainable advanced biofuels industry that supports both large and small forest landowners and generates jobs in rural communities. It is a very smart investment by the federal government in the university, which in turn helps secure the future. It is exactly the kind of investment our nation needs right now."

Contact: Gustafson, UW Professor of forest resources, 206-543-2790,

***Biorefinery team***
Lead by ZeaChem
Test quantities of bio-based aviation, diesel expected by 2013 and gasoline expected in 2015
ZeaChem, a leading biorefinery developer that is establishing operations in the Pacific Northwest, will head the production and distribution of bio-based aviation, diesel and gasoline fuels. Tim Eggeman, chief technology officer and founder, will lead the biorefinery team.

"ZeaChem appreciates the USDA's leadership in advancing the commercialization of cellulosic biofuels," said Jim Imbler, president and chief executive officer. "This grant will allow ZeaChem to further build out our economic and sustainable product platform beyond ethanol utilizing cellulosic feedstocks. ZeaChem and its partners will commercialize advanced 'drop-in' biofuels, for both commercial and military applications, throughout the Pacific Northwest region."

ZeaChem has developed a cellulose-based biorefinery platform capable of producing advanced fuels and intermediate chemicals from diverse biomass resources. By efficiently extracting the most energy possible from biomass feedstocks, ZeaChem significantly increases output while reducing both production costs and environmental impacts, the firm says.

ZeaChem is headquartered in Lakewood, Colo. and operates a research and development laboratory facility in Menlo Park, Calif. The company is constructing a 250,000 gallon demonstration biorefinery in Boardman, Ore., which will begin operations later this year. The facility will produce intermediate chemicals acetic acid and ethyl acetate which are used in paints and solvents, as well as cellulosic ethanol which is used in fuel blending. The grant will further diversify ZeaChem's product platform beyond cellulosic ethanol to enable the production of bio-based jet and diesel fuels as well as gasoline from cellulosic feedstocks. ZeaChem will utilize its existing infrastructure to accelerate the production of these drop-in cellulosic biofuels. Additional industrial process units will be added to the Boardman demonstration plant for the production of bio-based jet and diesel fuel in 2013 and gasoline in 2015.

Contact: Imbler via James Cortese, Edelman Public Relations, 650-533-8014,
Videos from ZeaChem:

***Feedstock team***
Led by GreenWood Resources
Right tree variety, supply close to refineries are two keys
GreenWood Resources is lead for the feedstock development team. The company will oversee multiple Phase I hybrid poplar bioenergy plantations in strategic regions throughout the Pacific Northwest where commercial complexes of bio-refineries and hybrid poplar plantations will be developed during Phase II. GreenWood will manage Phase I plantings with company elite varietals and refined bio-energy silvicultural techniques. GreenWood will also coordinate research in ecological sustainability methods of low-input silviculture and harvesting techniques conducted by university and industry partners.

"GreenWood Resources appreciates USDA support and recognition of hybrid poplar as an excellent non-food feedstock resource for the production of advanced bio-fuels and bio-based chemicals," said Jeff Nuss, president and chief executive officer.

"GreenWood Resources looks forward to advancing the science that will lead to the development of a new class of bio-energy hybrid poplar cultivars that produce significant yields of woody biomass that economically and efficiently undergo conversion to liquid fuels." said Brian Stanton, chief science officer.

GreenWood is a global investment and asset management company focused on high-yield short-rotation tree farms in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Core competencies – investment management, superior plant material, tree improvement methodologies, tree farm operations and marketing – address the skills required for superior, risk-adjusted returns for investments into intensively managed tree farms, the firm says. GreenWood operations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Contact: Stanton, chief science officer, 971-533-7052,

***Extension team***
Led by Washington State University Extension
For growers: Help for farmers, refineries to 'hit the ground running'
Washington State University Extension's role is to prepare the education and outreach infrastructure needed to support farmers and forest owners growing woody biomass feedstock.

WSU Extension educator Kevin Zobrist said there is a chicken-and-egg problem with growing biomass.

"Farmers and family forest owners will be reluctant to commit to growing trees for 10 or more years if they aren't certain they are going to have a market. At the same time, the refinery owner is not going to want to build a multi-million dollar facility if they are not certain there will be a stable supply of feedstock.

"We will develop a Pacific Northwest-wide network to train extension educators, educate farmers, get test plots going and start a co-op for woody biomass products," Zobrist said. "When the technology and the refinery side of this business is ready to start making contracts with farmers, then we will have educational materials and trained personnel in place to support the infrastructure. That way, all parties can hit the ground running."

Contact: Zobrist, WSU extension educator, 425-357-6017,
WSU Media relations contacts: Kathy Barnard or Brian Clark, 509-335-2806

***Education team***
Led by Agriculture Center of Excellence and Oregon State University
For community colleges, K-12: Ensuring courses, training available for new workforce
The Agriculture Center of Excellence's role in the grant is education and workforce training in order to build a critical mass of well-trained workers capable of filling the cross disciplinary needs of the biofuels industry. The center will expand its boundaries beyond Washington's 34 community and technical colleges to include community colleges in Idaho, Oregon, northern California and western Montana.

The center will partner with the K-12 system to expand curriculum sharing and clear career pathways. At the community college level the center will collaborate with regional partners to assess existing biofuels coursework, develop new curricula to fill knowledge gaps and expand existing programs by providing educational and career building resources. In addition to new biofuels courses, a sustainable bioenergy associate degree program will be developed to prepare students for employment in biomass production or conversion facilities.

The Agriculture Center of Excellence is one of 10 Centers of Excellence in Washington State. Centers are funded by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and designed to encourage economic development in the state's driver industries. The Agriculture Center of Excellence, based at Walla Walla Community College, promotes economic development through education, by connecting workforce training programs to the agricultural industry.

Contact: Mindy Stevens, acting director, Agricultural Center of Excellence
(also vice president of instruction, workforce education, WallaWalla Community College)

***Second part of education team***
Pre-college, bachelor's, master's students: Chance for alternative-fuel degrees, research
As part of the broader impacts of the project, Oregon State University will develop a bioenergy education program to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to advance bioenergy and provide leadership in establishing a bioenergy economy in the region.

Kate Field, director of the BioResource Research program at OSU, heads the new Bioenergy Education program, which will provide students throughout the Pacific Northwest the opportunity to work on alternative fuels research and develop bioenergy businesses that are appropriate to the region.

"OSU was a natural choice to head this new direction in education," Field said, "because we already have an excellent research-based undergraduate biosciences major, a strong professional science master's program, and the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences program for pre-college science enrichment."

"OSU will use the money for scholarships and for interdisciplinary courses and programs at the pre-college, bachelor's and master's levels," Field said. Undergraduates, for example, will be able to earn a minor in bioenergy while they participate in research projects and get the opportunity to work with regional bioenergy research, extension and industry partners.

The new bioenergy curricula will be available to a consortium of universities and colleges throughout the Pacific Northwest. Field anticipates that OSU will start admitting bioenergy students and awarding scholarships next winter, to start in fall term 2012.

Contact: Kate Field, associate professor of microbiology, 541-737-1837,

***Other subcontractors***
University of California, Davis – Brian Jenkins, 530-304-1108,
University of Idaho – Mark Coleman, 208-885-7604,
Also: Case New Holland, Evergreen State College and Rocky Mountain Wildlife Institute

***Advisory committee members***
Chrysler, Ecotrust, International Forestry Investment Advisors, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Valero Energy, Washington Department of Commerce and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

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