In a converted corn ethanol plant 25 minutes from Cedar Rapids, four-story tanks of renewable fuel are quietly bubbling away ready for conversion into fuel-grade ethanol. What makes this batch of fuel special is its main ingredient: instead of corn, Fiberight LLC is producing fuel-grade ethanol from International Paper’s recycling process organic waste.
Five or six years ago, ethanol was one of the most popular biofuels on the block. But recently, many had given up hope that ethanol could ever become a sustainable, affordable, and accessible gas-alternative, until a Maryland based company found a way to turn one company’s organic waste into valuable renewable fuel.
Hailed as the answer to America’s oil addiction, the organic materials could be produced domestically, and instead of drilling or mining, the ingredients could be grown, drastically reducing ethanol’s negative impact on the environment. Plus, it would burn cleaner than gasoline- what wasn’t to love?
It’s now been shown that that when the federal government provides big subsidies farmers that grow corn for ethanol instead of human consumption, food prices go way up. There’s also the ethical issue of using an edible product for fuel when so many people are lacking adequate food.
Ethanol plants can also put a huge drain on local water supplies, requiring between 1,081 and 1,121 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of ethanol.
And while E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, does emit fewer smog-producing pollutants than gasoline, it provides fewer miles per gallon, costs more, and is hard to find outside the Midwest.
As one of the largest recycled paper mills in the world, International Paper’s Cedar River mill produces 1 million tons per year of recycled paper for corrugated packaging, made from old corrugated containers (OCC). About 95 percent of OCC can be recycled into new paper, but the remaining unusable fiber usually ends up in the mill’s waste stream. This adds up to about 50,000 tons of residual fiber waste each year.
Previously, this residual fiber was sent to local agricultural companies for fertilizer, animal bedding and other land applications at a cost to International Paper.
The residual fiber waste from International Paper provides a good base-load feedstock for the biorefinery. Later this month, Fiberight also has plans to introduce organic pulps made from residential trash. No word yet about production emissions or carbon offsetting to be pursued by either company.
Image Credit: www.rechargenews.com