"ST. JOSEPH -- This country’s battle to curb oil imports is being plotted in high-tech laboratories and elite universities hunting for breakthroughs in alternative fuels.
But the frontlines in the effort to bring such fuels to market can be found in places like a working-class neighborhood in this river town, not far from where Pony Express riders saddled up to journey west.
Here in a brick and cinder-block building sit two rows of giant stainless steel kettles and equipment that are part of a $31 million experiment. The goal: Instead of using corn to make ethanol, see if it’s feasible to use cellulosic fiber, particularly six-foot tall stalks of switchgrass.
The St. Joseph cellulosic pilot plant is nearing completion. After testing over the summer, it will eventually produce about 250,000 gallons of ethanol a year. That’s enough to uncover any problems before larger commercial operations attempt to make billions of gallons more."