HELENA - Officials in three southwestern Montana counties have asked the state's congressional delegation to try to secure $800,000 in federal money to fund a handful of pilot biofuel projects in the area that are aimed at turning beetle-killed trees into energy.
The proposal by Broadwater, Jefferson and Lewis and Clark counties says 20 people would be put to work exploring three projects to find a technology that best meets local needs.
"It involves three counties, and that's a unique aspect," Lewis and Clark County Commission Chairman Mike Murray said. "We're trying to get our neighbors involved so that maybe one of the three of us at least will benefit, and hopefully all three of us."
If funded, the projects would include seasonal use of a wood chip and pellet arm at Carroll College, a stand-alone boiler at a public works facility and a test unit for a pyrolysis system at a location yet to be determined. Pyrolysis is a high-temperature form of burning that produces less atmospheric carbon dioxide than standard incineration.
The application, which seeks an appropriation in the Department of Energy's Energy and Water Bill, says local forests produce 350,000 tons of woody biomass every year. It also notes the facility that most recently used the majority of the harvested biomass - the Smurfit-Stone plant in Frenchtown - just closed.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he would take a close look at the proposal.
"There's great potential to keep and create jobs and to help secure our energy future with biomass," the Montana Democrat said.