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Five years ago, the United States government enacted a piece of legislation as part of a quarter of a trillion (yes, trillion) dollar transportation bill. In order to encourage the use of non-oil fuels, such as ethanol, Congress awarded a fifty cent per gallon stipend to anyone who combined these alternative fuels with those wished-to-be-avoided, but commonly relied upon fuels known as diesel, kerosene, and gasoline. Innocent enough.

What Congress failed to account for: the paper industry. Paper mills power their plants in large part by using byproducts from the trees they otherwise turn into paper as the core fuel source.  The chemical process is called the kraft process which yields a fuel called “black liquor.” Black liquor is, in and of itself, created without the use of diesel or gasoline. It is, in short, an alternative fuel under the fifty-cent-a-gallon legislation. But that isn’t enough to qualify for the stipend. In order to get the fifty cents per gallon, paper companies needed to add diesel to their mix — an otherwise unnecessary step.

Yet that’s exactly what they did.  In January of 2009, one large paper company, International Paper, announced they received over $70 million in tax credits under the program, for one month’s worth of paper production.

The paper industry argued that the addition of diesel (or kerosene or gasoline) to black liquor replaced the addition of natural gas, itself a fossil fuel, to the mix. Nevertheless, the government ended the stipend’s availability to paper mills in January of 2010.

Bonus fact: In 2005, a Chicago restaurant, Moto, came out with edible paper – made from soybeans and cornstarch — replete with edible ink. A diner’s dinner was, literally, printed up by an inkjet printer. Even the menus were edible.

From the Archives: “Plantable Paper,” paper which, if you plant it, will start to sprout wild flowers.

Related: A paper-making kit, replete with DVD. Tax rebate not included.

Originally published

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