EnviroFuels plans sugar-based ethanol plant

By Holly Jessen | May 21, 2010
Posted June 9, 2010

An ethanol plant proposed in Florida would make ethanol out of homegrown non-food sugar crops. Highlands EnviroFuels LLC wants to build an ethanol plant in Highlands County, Fla., where 1.6 million tons of sweet sorghum and sugarcane would be processed into 30 MMgy of ethanol and 25 megawatts of renewable power for the local power grid.

"Sugar-based ethanol production in Florida and the entire southern U.S. has tremendous potential to eliminate drilling for oil off Florida's coast, as well as reducing the need for drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico," said Bradley Krohn, principal and manager of Highlands EnviroFuels. "Furthermore, sugar-based ethanol from sugar cane and sweet sorghum is a viable commercial bridge between corn ethanol and the emergence of cellulosic ethanol."

The most difficult part of the project has been acquiring financing. However, early stage investments from local growers are helping the project move forward into the process design engineering phase, Krohn said. That includes site work, site surveys, geotechnical studies, civil site planning and permitting.

A robust life cycle analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was recently completed, Krohn said. The conclusion was that the company's planned sugar-based ethanol process will reduce GHG emissions by 80 percent. The study considered the full fuel cycle energy and greenhouse gas emission data, including agricultural energy for planting, cultivation, production, harvest, agricultural chemical inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), transport of sweet sorghum and sugar cane from local farms, fuel and power production, heat and electricity requirements, and the transport of ethanol for blending with gasoline.

"The LCA study validated that ethanol produced from Florida sugar cane and sweet sorghum is one of the most energy efficient and environmentally sustainable forms of ethanol, and will support our state's efforts to reduce dependence on petroleum, build a green economy, and reduce carbon emissions and global warming," said Krohn.

The fuel will qualify as an advanced biofuel under the Renewable Fuels Standard. "We are using conventional, traditional process conversion technology that has been well-proven in Brazil for 30 years," Krohn said. "Americans should be looking at the case model in Brazil and adapting it for use in the southern U.S."

If constructed, the plant will create 65 to 70 new jobs and stimulate hundreds of indirect jobs. The company has received state support in the form of a $7 million Farm to Fuel grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and a $305,000 grant from the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.