New Hope For Old Mill

Posted on Dec 1, 2009 :: Up Front
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The former New Page Mill in Niagara could not only support a cellulosic ethanol plant, but there’s also plenty of interest in the idea from suppliers, according to a new study.

New North, Inc., which covers 18 counties in Northeast Wisconsin, including Marinette, home to Niagara, commissioned the study by Resource Analytics and Groeschel Forestry Consulting. Phase One of the study, which was released over the summer, showed sufficient biomass resources exist in the area to support a cellulosic ethanol plant.

Cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel made from wood, grasses and non-edible plant material. Trees are a promising source of ethanol because they grow year round, require less fertilizer and water. They also contain more carbohydrates – the chemical precursors of ethanol – than food crops like corn do.

Phase Two of the study, released in mid-November, shows sufficient interest among companies and individuals to provide biomass resources – particularly wood resources – if a cellulosic ethanol plant opens in Niagara. That support comes with a caveat: the plant would need to support a variety of feedstocks.

New North Executive Director Jerry Murphy says the study shows a cellulosic ethanol plant in Niagara is a definite possibility.

“As second generation biofuels emerge as a fuel source, the New North is well positioned to take advantage with the resources and infrastructure necessary to create them,” he says. “This study has demonstrated that a cellulosic ethanol facility at the former Niagara paper mill site has a great deal of promise for potential investors.”

NewPage closed its pulp mill in Niagara in 2008, putting more than 300 people out of work. Since the plant closed, the New North has worked with local and county officials to find alternative uses for the site.

The study’s authors interviewed many individuals and firms involved in the biomass industry and there was significant interest in the idea of using the Niagara mill as producer of cellulosic ethanol.

“All participants recognize the changing business climate within their industry and seek to expand into emerging markets,” Jan Hacker of Resource Analytics wrote in the study. “Many of the individuals are involved in other emerging wood utilizations markets such as wood pellets for fuel or livestock bedding.”

In addition to wood resources, which provide the best option for operating a cellulosic ethanol plant in the short term, the study also notes the possibility of creating switch grass supplier cooperatives in conjunction with the establishment of an ethanol plant over the coming years.

Niagara Mayor George Bousley says plans for the biofuels facility bode well for his community.

“It’s very positive the mill could be used for a cellulosic ethanol plant, which will create jobs and bring economic investment in Niagara. It will be felt throughout the area,” he says.