Within a year, a pilot plant in Indiana will start converting the stalks and leaves of corn plants into diesel and jet fuel. The plant will use a novel approach involving acid as well as processes borrowed from the oil and chemical industry, which its developers hope will make fuel at prices cheap enough to compete with petroleum.
The plant, which will have the capacity to process about 10 tons of biomass a day—enough for about 800 gallons (3,000 liters) of fuel per day, will be built by Mercurius Biofuels of Ferndale, Washington, with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy of up to $4.3 million.
Cellulosic biomass—corn stalks and other matter like wood chips and grass—are abundant and require less energy and fertilizer to produce than sugar or corn grain, the main sources of biofuel now. Because of this, the production of cellulosic biomass is cheaper and results in less carbon dioxide emissions.