Maine Company Seeks Grant to Turn Wood Into Oil
As reported by WBTZTV.com Monday, Biofine Technology, a Maine company, is seeking $50 million in federal grants to commercialize a process for turning sawdust into a heating oil substitute. The process uses chemicals, heat, and pressure to “cook” wood scrap into heating or motor fuel, at a target price of $2 per gallon. Since papermaking is an almost $1.5 billion industry in Maine, there is a lot of wood scrap to go around; and since Maine is a cold state where most people use heating oil, a renewable heating oil substitute made locally from sawdust could be a huge boon for the state.
Biofine is not the only company looking to produce oil from scrap wood. Sawdust and other wood scrap is just one of the feedstocks being researched for use in “second-generation biofuel,” or biofuel that doesn’t require turning over valuable arable land to biofuel crops like corn or soybeans. The problem with those “first-generation” biofuels is two-fold: first, since land that grows other plants is cleared for the biofuel crops, there may be a net release of carbon; and second, since those crops are also food crops, their use for biofuel drives up food prices. Biofuel from sources that don’t use farmland and don’t take food off the table therefore has obvious advantages. For example, algae is seen by many as a promising source of biofuel. However, sawdust has an advantage even over algae: we already produce it in huge quantities, as a waste product.
However, something to contemplate, when reading about companies seeking large grants to develop exciting new technology: if the technology is so promising, why can’t they find private, commercial investors and lenders? Why do they need millions in taxpayer dollars?