Is Sharon on the right track?

Getting in on the ethanol boom

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Nov. 30, 2006, 8:38 a.m.)

In front of a packed village hall audience, Global Renewable officially announced plans last week Friday to build one of the biggest ethanol plants in the state just outside the village on Highway 67.

The company, set up by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, his former Ethanol Coalition head Jeffery P. Knight, businessman Tom Weickardt and Luis Carlos Correa Carvalho of Brazil, wants to gather as many kernels of corn in a 50-mile radius and process them into a renewable fuel that can perhaps reduce the United States' dependency on foreign oil.

Initial plans call for the proposed $195 million plant, expected to open in October 2008, to produce 105 to 120 million gallons of ethanol per year. Ethanol is currently used as an additive in Wisconsin gasoline and is gaining popularity in "flex-fuel" vehicles that can run on E-85, a newer blend of the ethanol and gasoline fuel
.
"It's good for the local economy, good for the local farmers and, hopefully, good for the corn price," said Sharon farmer Mike Cerny. "We're in the business to make money and if someone comes along to help put money in our pocket, that's a good thing."

Corn sold for ethanol production typically sells for 16 cents more per bushel, Knight said.

"It's not a partisan issue," Knight said. "This has Republicans and Democrats working hand-in-hand. Ethanol is good for the country and the growth of the domestic product."

Global Renewable chose the site over at least three other options because of its proximity to necessary infrastructure. The 191-acre parcel is a little more than a mile west of the village on a wedge of agricultural land between the north side of Highway 67 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

The highway system offers adequate transportation for trucks to bring corn to the facility. The adjacent railroad tracks can handle the 100 rail cars expected to transport the processed ethanol to the East Coast about every 10 days. A granary is nearby to accept corn remnants that can be sold for high-protein livestock feed. Also, a major underground natural gas line is about a mile away, Knight said.

Most important is the access to a quality corn crop in the area, Knight said. The plant could use 37.8 million bushels of corn per year.

"(Ethanol production) is the best market we can find (for corn)," said Bob Oleson, executive director of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. "We keep increasing production 5 percent per year. We need to find a home for that 5 percent every year."

While the project's economic benefits for the area appear to be realized - 55 permanent jobs when the plant is open, 200 construction jobs to build the facility, $700,000 in taxes paid and an estimated $98 million extra dollars in the community - some residents aren't so sure they want an ethanol plant near their homes.

"That's going to be right across the street from several people," said Jessica Peterson, who with four or five other neighbors can look out their front doors at the cornfield where the plant might go. "If you want to live in the country, who is going to buy property that's right across the street from an industrial park?
"
Global Renewable is looking to annex the land into the village, a process that could take two months or longer, village Attorney Brian Schuk said. There is some land between the village limits and the proposed site that might also need annexation to connect the plant to the village.

Plans are still early, but the area might also be considered for inclusion in a possible Tax Incremental Finance district, Schuk said.

Thompson said ethanol plants can help ensure a small community's success
.
"I believe in farming and I believe we have to find different products and different ways for our farmers to be able to grow and expand," Thompson said.

Village President Bob Carlson agreed.

"An ethanol plant is going to do a couple major things for everybody. A.: It's going to help profits for farmers. It's going to help the family farm. We're an agriculture community and they're an agriculture company.

"Most importantly, it's going to keep young farmers in the community. Farms are starting to go by the wayside because family members don't want to stay involved.
"It will help with our tax base down the road. It's going to help with jobs. It will help with the vitality of everything."

Sharon Ethanol Facts

-- Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol in beer, wine and liquors. The production processes of beverage ethanol and fuel ethanol are similar. Both involve the fermenting of grains - such as corn - with yeast.

-- The plant will annually produce 105 million to 120 million gallons of ethanol from about 38 million bushels of corn.

-- Most of the corn will be purchased from farmers and grain operators from within a 50-mile radius of the plant.

-- The plant will use 55 full-time employees and create 200 temporary construction jobs during the 16- to 18-month build. Groundbreaking is anticipated in spring and an October 2008 opening is planned.

-- Because corn crop yields increased about 200 bushels per acre in recent years with more efficient farming techniques, the Sharon area has 80 million bushels of corn available after feed use.

-- Dried distillers grain, a by-product of ethanol production, is a protein-rich food source available for livestock.
(Source: Sharon Ethanol)

Regional Biofuel Plants

-- Renew Energy, ethanol plant, town of Aztalan, Jefferson County.
Capacity: 130 million gallons annually
Project: Broke ground in early October, anticipated opening in July 2007
Cost: $100 million
Corn use: 50 million bushels annually
Jobs: 60

-- United Ethanol, ethanol plant, Milton, Rock County
Capacity: 42 million to 52 million gallons annually
Project: Expected to open in January.
Cost: $60 million
Corn use: 16 million to 20 million bushels annually
Jobs: 30-35

-- Badger State Ethanol, ethanol plant, Monroe, Green County
Capacity: 55 million gallons annually
Project: Plant began operation in October 2002
Cost: $54 million
Corn use: 18 million to 20 million bushels annually
Jobs: 38

-- Midwest Biofuel, biodiesel plant, Clinton, Rock County
Capacity: Initially, 5 million gallons annually with plans to increase to 40 million gallons

Project: Ground broke this fall, expected to start production early 2007
Jobs: 25

-- North Prairie Productions, biodiesel plant, Evansville, Rock County
Capacity: 45 million gallons annually

Project: Construction to begin soon, with operations starting in late 2007.
Cost: $42 million

Jobs: 25

 

Corn to Ethanol Frequently Asked Questions

• Effect on Agriculture and Rural America

Q: Why is corn the most logical renewable source?
A: Due to the abundance of corn found in the Corn Belt, the U.S. has an ideal energy source using corn. However, other types of biomass could produce ethanol such as sugar cane, corn stover, wood products, switchgrass, and many others.

Q: Where are ethanol plants located?
A: There are over 101 ethanol production plants throughout 20 states across the country. The ethanol industry alone creates over 130,000 jobs to the economy.

Q: Will we run out of food if you convert our corn to ethanol?
A: Most of the corn currently used for ethanol production is from field corn used to feed livestock, not the corn for human consumption. Additionally, the supply of corn is abundant and readily available to help our energy security and rural economy.

• Ethanol Production and Process

Q: What is the difference between dry mill and wet mill processing?
A: Corn dry milling is the most common type of ethanol production in the United States. In dry milling, the entire corn kernel is first ground into flour and the starch in the flour is converted to ethanol via fermentation. The other products are carbon dioxide (used in the carbonated beverage industry) and an animal feed called distillers dried grain with solubles.

Corn wet milling is the process of separating the corn kernel into starch, protein, germ and fiber in an aqueous medium prior to fermentation. The primary products of wet milling include starch and starch-derived products (e.g. high fructose corn syrup and ethanol), corn oil, corn gluten, and corn gluten.

Q: How long does it take for corn to become ethanol?
A: Corn can be typical converted into ethanol in five days.

Q: How much corn is needed to make ethanol?
A: For every one bushel of corn, approximately 2.7 - 2.8 gallons of ethanol is produced.

Q: How is ethanol produced?
A: Ethanol is produced from starch. All agricultural crops and residues contain starch, which is a polymer of glucose, a six-carbon sugar. To produce ethanol from grain, the starch portion of the grain is exposed and mixed with water to form a mash. The mash is heated and enzymes are added to convert the starch into glucose.

The next phase, fermentation, involves the addition of yeast to convert the glucose to ethanol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation produces a mixture called "beer," which contains about 10 to 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent water. The "beer" is then boiled in a distillation column to separate the water, resulting in ethanol. Ethanol production from grain utilizes only the starch.

A variety of highly valued feed co-products, including gluten meal, gluten feed and dried distillers grains, are produced from the remaining protein, minerals, vitamins and fiber and are sold as high-value feed for livestock. In addition to grain, ethanol is also produced today from wood waste, cheese whey, waste sucrose, potato waste, brewery waste and food and beverage wastes. Many ethanol producers capture carbon dioxide emissions for processing and use in beverages.

• Environmental Impact

Q: Does it take more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy we get out of it?
A: No. This has been a common misconception of the ethanol industry, that it takes more energy to make ethanol than is available to the final consumer. Remember, ethanol is produced from plant matter, today dominated by corn, wheat, potatoes, sorghum, etc.
Plants grow through the use of energy provided by the sun and are renewable resources. If 100 BTUs of energy is used to plant corn, harvest the crop, transport it, etc., 167 BTUs of energy is available in the fuel ethanol. Corn yields and processing technologies have improved significantly over the past 20 years and they continue to do so, making ethanol production less and less energy intensive.

Q: How is ethanol better for the environment than petroleum?
A: The use of ethanol-blended fuels reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 12 to 19 percent. Ethanol reduces toxic emissions by 30 percent and exhaust emissions by 12 percent.

• Ethanol, in my car???

Q: How does ethanol affect mileage?
A: Typically, when 10 percent ethanol is blended to gasoline, ethanol has a positive effect on mileage.

Q: What do the terms E-10 and E-85 mean?
A: E-10 refers to fuel that contains 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. E-85 refers to fuel that contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Q: Can my car run on ethanol now?
A: You can safely use gasoline in your vehicle that contains up to 10 percent ethanol and all car manufacturers in North America warrantee the use of E-10 gasoline. The ethanol-blended gasoline that is commonly sold throughout Canada and the United States contains 6 percent to 10 percent ethanol. In order to use fuel that has an ethanol content of more than 10 percent, a flexible-fuel vehicle (FFV) is required.

Q: Does ethanol damage my car engine?
A: There are many myths surrounding the use of ethanol-blended fuels and the effect that they have on vehicle engines. In fact, you may find that your vehicle runs better on an ethanol-blended fuel as it will remove deposits and clean out the fuel lines in your vehicle.

Q: Can I convert my car to run on E-85 fuel?
A: It is too impractical and costly to do after-factory conversions of gasoline fueled vehicles to E-85 vehicles. Since the combustion of ethanol and gasoline is different, different engine electronic systems are required, and need to be installed at the time of manufacture.

Q: What are flexible-fuel vehicles?
A: All three major American car companies (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) manufacture flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs). These are vehicles that can run on either regular gasoline or E-85 fuel.

Q: Where can I buy E-85 fuel now?
A: In the United States, there are approximately 150 E-85 filling stations across the Midwest as noted on the e85fuel.com Web site. There are currently no stations offering E-85 fuel in Walworth County.

(Source: National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center Web site)
(For more Ethanol FAQs, visit the American Coalition for Ethanol Web site, http://www.ethanol.org/FAQs.htm)

 

Ethanol-Related Links

National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center
http://www.ethanolresearch.com

Wisconsin Ethanol Coalition
www.wisconsinethanol.com

American Coalition for Ethanol
http://www.ethanol.org

Govenors' Ethanol Coalition
http://www.ethanol-gec.org/index.htm

National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition
www.e85fuel.com

U.S. E-85 Fuelling Locations
www.e85refueling.com

Wisconsin's E-85 Fuelling Locations
http://www.e85refueling.com/locationsplain.php?state=wiWisconsin

Renewable Fuels Association
http://www.ethanolrfa.org

Wisconsin Corn Growers Association
http://www.wicorn.org

National Corn Growers Association
http://www.ncga.com

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation
http://www.wfbf.com

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