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Lawmaker says cellulosic ethanol a decade away

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It will be at least a decade before technological breakthroughs allow ethanol fuel to be produced commercially from farm and forest waste like wood chips, switchgrass and corn stalks, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said on Tuesday.

The Bush administration has a much quicker 2012 target date for moving U.S. ethanol production away from its current main feedstock -- corn -- to cheaper agricultural waste and other so-called cellulosic sources.

However, Rep. Collin Peterson said that goal probably won’t be met.

“I think that is optimistic. I think we are 10 years away,” said Peterson, speaking at the Reuters Global Agriculture and Biofuel Summit.

“I really think the more I look at this whole cellulosic issue, there is a lot bigger problem to overcome here than people realize in terms of the feedstocks. We have a lot of work to do in that regard,” he said. “I’m not sure cellulosic ethanol will ever get off the ground.”

A new energy law requires U.S. ethanol production to increase from 9 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

Peterson said with more ethanol plants coming online, the one thing he knows for sure is more pipelines will be needed to move the fuel supplies.

Peterson said one major company has told him it is considering building a pipeline to transport ethanol from the Midwest to the Southeast region of the United States. He would not provide details about the project.

Colonial Pipeline, the largest U.S. oil products pipeline, has said it is looking into a pipeline to move ethanol supplies.

Ethanol can’t be shipped through the same pipelines that carry other petroleum products. Ethanol producers located mostly in the Midwest have to use trucks and trains to send the fuel to the gasoline-hungry east and west coasts.

Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore and Russ Blinch; Editing by Christian Wiessner