ZeaChem searches for a greener coal

| Print |  Email
Articles - July 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

 

0711_ZeaChemSearches
Poplars at the GreenWood Resources farm in Boardman. The trees will be processed into liquid fuel, plastic and solid fuel.

Colorado-based ZeaChem is due to begin production at its new cellulosic ethanol factory in Boardman this fall, converting poplar trees into fuel, chemicals and plastic products for global markets.

But that’s not all ZeaChem is planning to do in Boardman. CEO James Imbler says ZeaChem is investigating ways to help Portland General Electric “green up” its Boardman coal plant with a biomass coal replacement made from poplar wood. “It’s  [a highly efficient] product, very good quality, with a consistency that makes it very attractive for some kind of combustion,” says Imbler.

PGE’s Boardman plant is the only coal plant in Oregon, and by far the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. PGE has pledged to stop burning coal there by the end of 2020 and is investigating alternative fuel sources to keep the plant operating. ZeaChem closed a $34 million fundraising round in January 2009. It plans to employ 25 people to operate the Boardman plant at the start and to expand operations over time, aided by a $25 million grant from the Department of Energy and various state subsidies. The company has signed a long-term supply contract with GreenWood Resources, which operates a huge poplar tree farm in Boardman.

As for biomass, Imbler says the plan is to extract the sugars from the poplar pulp to make ethanol and to use the dry wood to make biomass fuel to replace coal. He says the resulting coal-like product performs well but has yet to be tested by third-party labs. “That’s one reason we’re building the demo plant,” he says. “We want to run stuff and follow the molecules in circles, and make products and byproducts and do test work on all of it.”

Coal has long been an area of interest for Imbler, an energy industry veteran who formerly served as president of the sprawling Koch Petroleum. He and several other ZeaChem executives formerly worked at Evergreen Energy, a public company focused on “clean coal.”

PGE spokesman Steve Corson says PGE is aware of ZeaChem’s research into biomass but has no deal in place with the company. “We are actively researching the potential for biomass to refuel the Boardman plant once we cease the use of coal in 2020,” he says.

BEN JACKLET

 

More Articles

Downtime with Jill Nelson

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Live, Work, Play wit the CEO of Ruby Receptionists.


Read more...

Department of Self-Promotion

Linda Baker
Tuesday, August 04, 2015

061715-awards1Oregon Business wins journalism awards.


Read more...

Flattery with Numbers

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

The false promise of economic impact statements.


Read more...

Ranking the airlines that fly PDX

The Latest
Friday, August 14, 2015
airlinesthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

17 airlines make stops at Portland International Airport, but not all are created equal when it comes to customer service.


Read more...

Reader Input: School Choice

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Which of the following would be most effective in reducing the cost of operating a public university in Oregon?


Read more...

10 Innovators in Rural Health

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Telemedicine, new partnerships and real estate diversification make health care more accessible in rural Oregon.


Read more...

Is there life beyond Reed?

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY GARY THILL | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

A storied institution climbs down from the ivory tower.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS