A pilot plant to turn wheat straw, wood wastes and corn stalks into ethanol fuel will be built in Boardman, Ore., with help from a $24.3 million U.S. Energy...

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A pilot plant to turn wheat straw, wood wastes and corn stalks into ethanol fuel will be built in Boardman, Ore., with help from a $24.3 million U.S. Energy Department grant announced this week.

The 2.7 million gallon-a-year plant will be built at a site where Pacific Ethanol already operates a 40 million gallon-a year corn-to-fuel plant. It could be running by the end of 2009.

The Sacramento, Calif., company will partner with BioGasol ApS, a Danish corporation with an enzyme technology that will be used at the plant. That technology already has been demonstrated at a pilot plant in Denmark, according to Pacific Ethanol.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory will be involved.

Under the terms of the federal grant, Pacific Ethanol and BioGasol are expected to raise another $24.3 million to invest in the plant.

Straw, wood and corn stover all contain cellulose, an abundant material that could allow for greater ethanol production.

But cellulose is difficult to break down into starch and the fermentable sugars that can be turned into ethanol.

“We will demonstrate the technology and see if it is successful,” said Pacific Ethanol Vice President Tom Koehler. “In order to get somewhere, you have to put one foot forward.”

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com