By Tim Raphael of Portland, Oregon. Tim has been a long-time Oregon environmental advocate who now works for Pacific Ethanol - a renewable fuels company.
What do Governor Kulongoski, Congressman Greg Walden, an Eastern Oregon Wheat farmer and a barge operator have in common? They were all among the 500 people in Boardman on October 5th celebrating the grand opening of Pacific Ethanol's state-of-the-art biorefinery, Oregon's first opportunity to produce its own motor fuel. This video shows how renewable fuels are breaking down old political barriers between urban and rural Oregon.
At Boardman, we are working with local farmers to grow corn for the plant, and we are using corn that is already being imported to Oregon to feed livestock, converting the corn starch to ethanol and delivering the remaining distillers grain back to local livestock growers. It's a value-added process. In the future we hope to convert local cellulose feedstocks like abundant wheat straw to ethanol. Skeptics of corn-based ethanol should review the latest research [pdf] on low carbon fuels, including full life-cycle analyses from the University of California, Berkeley.
The research shows that production processes like Pacific Ethanol's--which avoids energy intensive drying of distillers grains and locates plants near food and fuel markets--reduces greenhouse gas emissions up to 40 percent compared to conventional gasoline. By shipping ethanol to Portland in barges that were previously returning empty, we are creating transportation efficiencies.
And by improving farm economics, ethanol can be a driver for more sustainable agricultural practices. Herbicide, pesticide, nitrogen use and soil erosion from corn production are all declining, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
A basic tenet of sustainability is continuous improvement. We can continue to do better, and we are as anxious as anyone to research and develop the next generation of biofuels. But we need access to markets today to be able to finance the next innovations. Oregon is doing biofuels right -- having passed a landmark legislative package that ensures market access and creates incentives for local feedstocks. The policy is already translating into on-the-ground investment. Oregon is well-positioned to reap the economic and environmental benefits of renewable fuels.