The plant will produce wood-cellulose ethanol, a huge departure from corn-based ethanol. Rather than using food biomass like corn to make ethanol, a move that's drawn increasing criticism from environmentalists and the general public, cellulosic ethanol technology rapidly decomposes nonfood biomass, including items like old wood chips and garbage from municipal dumps. In Mascoma's case, its Michigan plant "will use harvested mixed hardwood chips and other nonfood biomass materials" to produce ethanol, according to the Detroit News.
Originally, Mascoma was to build in both Tennessee and Michigan, but disagreements between Tennessee and Mascoma relegated the plant to Michigan only. The Upper Peninsula was chosen for its abundance of forested land. Both GM and Marathon Oil are investors in Mascoma's project and are contributing money toward production of the first plant.
It's refreshing to see significant government and auto industry money going toward truly sustainable alternative fuel technology. Cellulosic ethanol for automobiles, like waste vegetable oil, epitomizes the concept of recycling, in effect helping to solve both waste management and fuel supply problems in one move. If we could turn even a fraction of our country's waste products into fuel in the next decade, we'll be setting the stage for both energy independence and a cleaner future.--Colin Mathews