YORK The emergence of cellulosic ethanol has been a long time coming a real long time.
"I've been doing this for 30 years," said Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. "And this has always been five years away."
But with Friday's opening of Abengoa Bioenergy's test plant for cellulosic ethanol the first such plant in Nebraska the state took a large step toward the development of a fuel source that has been hailed as the future of the ethanol industry.
The test plant, on the site of Abengoa's 55-million-gallon-per-year starch ethanol plant northeast of York, produced its first 75-gallon batch of ethanol from wheat straw last month.
It will be used as a 1/100th-scale pilot plant for the company's first planned commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kan.
Abengoa, for its part, received a $17 million grant from the federal Department of Energy in 2003 to pay for half of the test plant's construction and first three years of operation, said Tom Robb, a project manager for Abengoa.
It also received a $76.8 million federal grant toward the Kansas plant, which is scheduled to open in late 2010, Robb said.
Several local and state officials thanked Abengoa for choosing to put its plant in York and pointed to the rural economic development the ethanol industry has sparked.
"With cellulosic ethanol, we have another opportunity to take another giant step in relation to ethanol," said Gov. Dave Heineman. "To think that we could be out there on the cutting edge of technology, I think, is very, very important for our state."