Study confirms logistical capacity for Wisconsin cellulosic ethanol plant

By Lisa Gibson | November 11, 2009
Report posted Dec. 4, 2009, at 10:45 a.m. CST

Phase two of a two-part Resource Analytics study commissioned by northeast Wisconsin consortium New North Inc. recently concluded that the logistical resources for a woody biomass supply chain exist to support a cellulosic ethanol plant in Niagara, Wis.

Previously, phase one had concluded that enough woody biomass is available to support a plant, along with existing paper mills in the area. The new cellulosic ethanol plant would be on the site of a closed paper mill, according to Joshua Morby, New North spokesperson. "The primary focus for this effort was how to keep jobs in the region?" he said. "When that paper mill closed, we looked at what are some other potential uses of that facility, with cellulosic ethanol being one of them." Phase two brought together individuals and companies that would make up such a supply chain and found significant interest in doing so among them, according to New North.

New North is made up of businesses, chambers of commerce, economic development and other agencies in an 18-county region in Wisconsin. The approach the organization has taken is unique on several fronts. Typically, developers looking to build a plant on a particular site would conduct the study. "We've done it preemptively," Morby said. "We've gone out and done the study and now we're marketing the study." The approach sweetens the deal, he adds, for developers looking to build. "If somebody comes to you and they've already paid to do the study and they already have the relationships and collaborations in place with the people that handle the logistics, it just makes it easier," he said. The consortium is in discussions with developers interested in converting the mill to a cellulosic ethanol plant, but no agreements are in place, he added.

About 460,000 green tons of fiber from logging residue could be obtained from within a 65-miles radius of the plant, phase one found, and policy restraints in harvesting it are minimal on all ownerships except national forests. It also found that agricultural sources of fiber could be used, but phase two found woody biomass to be a more beneficial and logistical feedstock. Switchgrass supplier cooperatives also could be established, according to findings.

"From our standpoint, the focus of this effort is to retain jobs and employ an existing skilled workforce while leveraging the available resources we have in a sustainable manner," Morby said.