Ace, Sweetwater plan to produce cellulosic ethanol

Source: By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel • Posted: Monday, January 7, 2013

Ace Ethanol will team up with Sweetwater Energy Inc. to produce next-generation ethanol at its plant in Stanley.

The Stanley plant opened in 2002 as Wisconsin’s first large-scale corn ethanol production facility. It has 48 employees and can produce about 50 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Ace and Rochester, N.Y.-based Sweetwater will team up under a plan in which Sweetwater will provide sugars from cellulosic, or nonfood biomass sources, to the Stanley plant.

The sugars will be made from locally available sources, such as crop residues, energy crops and woody biomass, the companies said. Wood chips or corn stover left over from the corn harvest are logical first sources of biomass, said Bob Sather, a co-founder of Ace Ethanol.

Sweetwater Energy has developed a technology to produce low-cost sugars from nonfood biomass for use in biorefineries that make fuel, chemicals and plastics. It says the Wisconsin plant would be the first in a series of similar facilities where it hopes to deploy its new technology.

“This is going to be a model plant for the future,” Sather said. “Other plants will be doing the same thing.”

Cellulosic ethanol has been a priority to address the food-vs.-fuel concerns that have been raised about conventional ethanol, which is produced from corn.

The contract has a total potential value of more than $100 million, according to an announcement by the two companies and the Wisconsin Bioindustry Alliance.

“Ace Ethanol has been bench-testing Sweetwater’s cellulosic material for some time, and we’re confident that this project will be commercially profitable,” Neal Kemmet, president of Ace Ethanol, said in a statement. “With Sweetwater, we’ll move from 100% corn to a combination of cornstarch and 7% cellulosic sugar as our feedstocks.”

The Sweetwater biomass-to-sugar facility will be built on property adjacent to the Ace Ethanol plant, with construction expected to take up to 18 months, Sather said.

Stanley is about 35 miles east of Eau Claire in west-central Wisconsin.