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Milton gas could end up in your soda: Ethanol plant will capture, sell CO2

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Stacy Vogel
February 8, 2008
— In an age when carbon dioxide has become a dirty word, a Milton plant is trying to put the gas to good use.

United Ethanol broke ground about a month ago on a plant that will collect 250 tons of carbon dioxide a day. The gas currently is being released into the atmosphere as a byproduct of the company’s ethanol production.


At the end of the process, the carbon dioxide could end up cooling your food as it’s being processed or putting the fizz in your can of soda.


United Ethanol turns corn into ethanol and distilled grain at the plant in Milton’s Eastside Industrial Park, releasing carbon dioxide from the corn during fermentation.


“We’re not generating any CO2; we’re just releasing it from the state it was stored in,” said Joe Johansen, vice president of ethanol operations for United Ethanol. “Now we’ll recapture it again, and it’ll go back out in industry.”


EPCO Carbon Dioxide Products, a Louisiana-based company, has agreed to a 15-year contract to buy the recaptured carbon dioxide.


The carbon dioxide plant, a 150-by-50 foot building to be located next to the ethanol plant, will collect nearly all of the carbon dioxide released during fermentation through a series of pipes, said Tom Gannon, EPCO vice president of sales and marketing.


At the plant, the carbon dioxide will be refined to remove impurities, refrigerated and compressed into a liquid state, Gannon said.


EPCO will transport 22 or 23 truckloads of the liquefied carbon dioxide a day to more than 50 customers in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.


Customers use carbon dioxide for “a hundred different applications” in the chemical, food-processing and beverage industries, Gannon said.


The biggest use of carbon dioxide is for chilling or freezing in the food-processing industry, he said. Carbon dioxide also adds carbonation to soda and some beers and is used to adjust the pH levels of water in some water treatment plants. It’s even used to package cheese.


The Milton carbon dioxide plant is different from most, Gannon said. Normally, EPCO operates its own plants, but United Ethanol will own and operate the Milton plant, he said. EPCO already owns 10 plants, including one in Monroe.


Current United Ethanol employees will operate the Milton carbon dioxide plant, Johansen said. The plant is expected to become operational April 1, he said.


More road traffic

The new carbon dioxide plant on United Ethanol’s Milton campus will add 22 to 23 trucks a day to an area that already sees plenty of truck traffic.


About 70 truckloads of corn and ethanol go in and out of United Ethanol daily, though some are transported by train, said Joe Johansen, vice president of ethanol operations.


The city knew when it approved the ethanol plant it would experience increased truck traffic, said Todd Schmidt, city administrator, and officials realized the route on County M wasn’t ideal.


But Schmidt isn’t too concerned because the state plans to redirect the road in 2009. When completed, County M will travel north from Townline Road, instead of northwest, to meet a rerouted Highway 59.


“Obviously, the state will build this (County M) to a higher standard than a normal road,” Schmidt said.


The city will see even fewer trucks after 2014, when the state is scheduled to finish a Highway 26 bypass that will direct traffic around Milton’s east side, he said.


The only complaints the city has received about ethanol-related traffic are a few cases of corn or corn mash being spilled on the road, Schmidt said. In those cases, trucking and plant personnel promptly cleaned the spills when notified.


There also was a problem with trucks piling up on the road when the plant first opened, but the city and plant quickly dealt with it, Schmidt said.


“We had to work with them to make sure the trucks didn’t sit out there on County M,” he said.



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