Ethanol plant still on course

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Mike Heine
Thursday, December 20, 2007
— Despite the rising price of corn, Global Renewable is pushing ahead with plans to build a corn-supported ethanol plant here.

The company has raised 80 to 90 percent of the $237 million needed to build the facility, which could produce 108 million to 120 million gallons of ethanol annually from 38 million bushels of corn, said Jeff Knight, director of Global Renewable.

Until the remaining equity is raised, the company cannot predict a start date for construction.

“We’d like to break ground (soon),” Knight said. “If it’s by April, May or June, we’d be happy.”

Construction will take about 18 months.

Rising corn prices have forced some ethanol producers to shut down, reduce production or delay construction plans, but Knight still sees a future in corn-made ethanol.

The infrastructure to transport and store ethanol on the east and west coasts is improving, and Knight expects demand for the renewable fuel to increase.

The infrastructure shortcomings has created a “glut of ethanol in the Midwest” and lower prices. Once improvements are made, prices should go back up and ethanol producers should revive, Knight said.

Some energy experts see a need to use alternative biomass sources to create renewable energy.

Corn ethanol has a low net yield of energy because of the amount of energy put into producing it, including fertilizers, tractor fuel and fossil fuels burned at production facilities, according to some studies. Others say its production has a net loss of energy.

Wisconsin has 15 million tons of excess biomass—switchgrass, wood, crop residue and manure—that could produce 1.3 billion gallons of ethanol per year and displace half of the 2.6 billion gallons of gasoline Wisconsin consumed last year, according to an April study by Better Environmental Solutions for the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition.

While the study finds net energy gain from producing corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol produced from other sources may be more efficient and create less greenhouse gasses.

The energy bill passed Friday by the U.S. Senate calls for the nation to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel annually by 2022, with 21 billion from sources other than corn kernels.

The bill calls for about 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol. About 7 billion gallons are produced now, said Judy Ziewacz, director of the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence.

Ziewacz said the corn ethanol plants of today likely would be converted to make cellulosic ethanol in the future.

Cost is the reason they aren’t converting now. The enzymes needed to break down the sugars in grasses or wood are expensive, Knight said.

The Sharon ethanol plant will be able to convert when the time arrives, Knight said.

Last updated: 10:40 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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