Mascoma Corporation, a leader in advanced low-carbon energy biotechnology, announced its partnership with the University of Tennessee to construct a facility to produce cellulosic ethanol utilizing switchgrass as feedstock. The facility will be the first of its kind in the United States. Mascoma and the University of Tennessee plan to jointly build and operate a 5 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Monroe County, establishing Tennessee as a biofuels industry leader.

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Switchgrass will be used as feedstock in the production of cellulosic ethanol at a facility constructed by Mascoma Corporation and the University of Tennessee. Credit: www., S.E. Wilco

The business partnership is the result of Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen’s Biofuels Initiative, a research and business model designed to reduce dependence on foreign oil and provide significant economic and environmental benefits for Tennessee’s farmers and communities.

“This partnership is a critical element in the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, which has the potential to establish Tennessee as a national leader in ethanol production from cellulosic biomass,” said University of Tennessee Executive Vice President David Millhorn. “This, in turn, should lead to new business and economic development opportunities for our farmers throughout the state.”

The principal product of the facility will be cellulosic ethanol – ethanol fuel derived from plant material. Cellulosic ethanol is made from grasses such as switchgrass, wood chips, and other non-food plant material such as corn. Producing ethanol in this fashion does not compete with food or feed uses and therefore does not raise food or feed costs.

At full capacity, the facility will require 170 tons per day of switchgrass and other agricultural and forest biomass. An $8 million farmer incentive program is under development to increase local production of this new energy crop. The comprehensive switchgrass program includes direct payments to farmers in advance of an established market for switchgrass. Farmers will receive high-quality switchgrass seed for planting, as well as research and technical support related to switchgrass production.

The facility will be located 35 miles south of Knoxville in the Niles Ferry Industrial Park in Vonore. Construction is expected to begin by the end of this year, with operation beginning in 2009.

“The site sits in the heart of a productive farming region where the agricultural community has shown interest in the biofuels effort,” said Dr. Kelly Tiller, Director of External Operations for the UT Office of Bioenergy Programs.

” Tennessee is an ideal partner for Mascoma as the first state committed to producing switchgrass as an energy crop. In addition, the leadership of the University of Tennessee and its trustees have demonstrated tremendous dedication and zeal toward the advancement of biofuel technology. We look forward to working with our new colleagues as we progress through the stages that will ultimately lead to the production and distribution of a commercial product in Tennessee,” said Bruce A. Jamerson, Mascoma’s Chief Executive Officer.

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