Biodiesel plant, switchgrass production facility featured on Wisconsin Green and Growing Bus Tour

MADISON – A biodiesel facility that turns used grease into auto fuel and a business that is cultivating switchgrass as a renewable energy source were among the stops on a daylong bus trip highlighting Wisconsin’s emerging biofuels industry.


Wednesday’s trip, the second in a series of Wisconsin Green and Growing bus tours, was designed to showcase the economic development potential associated with businesses that create environmental benefits. Tour organizer John Imes, executive director of the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, said Wisconsin is rapidly becoming a leader in the biofuels industry and is positioning itself for bioproducts development.


“The biofuels industry presents tremendous opportunity for Wisconsin, both in terms of job creation and environmental improvement,” Imes said. “For example, while other states may have an edge in terms of the ethanol volume they produce, we know corn-to-ethanol production today is a first stage technology. Wisconsin can pioneer new technologies that will make a variety of renewable fuels more efficient, more economical and more widely available. We are home to worldwide leaders in these technologies and our consumers already are beginning to see tangible benefits from the investment here.”


Stops highlighted on Wednesday’s tour included:


  • United Wisconsin Grain Producers’ ethanol plant. The Friesland plant, now in its second year of operation, is ramping up production and already has plans to expand its facilities and increase capacity to 80 million gallons annually. The plant currently produces about 60 million gallons of ethanol per year, using corn produced in the region.


  • The Sanimax biodiesel plant near DeForest. The plant, due to start operation in January 2007, has already begun to hire production staff and will be capable of producing 20 million gallons of biodiesel annually. The 15,000-square-foot plant can use recycled restaurant grease, tallow or virgin oils, like soybean, to create its fuel. The fuel, which is naturally ultra-low sulfur, burns more cleanly and produces fewer emissions than traditional diesel fuel. It can be used in any truck or auto that burns diesel fuel.


  • Agrecol in Evansville. Agrecol is the largest grower of native plants and seed in the Midwest with 1,000 acres in production and more than 200 species of native wildflowers and grasses, including switchgrass. Switchgrass is touted as one of the best emerging energy crops, used for cellulosic ethanol, co-fired with coal to produce electricity in power plants and pelletized as a clean energy alternative in rural homes and commercial applications. Rural communities could become entirely self-sufficient when it comes to using locally grown crops and residues to fuel cars and tractors and to heat and power homes and buildings. Agrecol has just begun heating its farm with pellets produced from the seed operation.


  • Lucigen Corp. and C5-6 Technologies, Middleton. Lucigen, which focuses on research into enzymes with applications for medical testing, recently launched C5-6 Technologies to commercialize enzymes that make production of biofuels more efficient. The company’s enzymes can improve the productivity of the current corn ethanol process by approximately 10 percent without additional equipment or infrastructure.


  • Ballweg Chevrolet in Middleton. Ballweg Chevrolet is a leader in the sale of flex-fuel vehicles—cars and trucks that can run on gasoline or blended fuels containing up to 85 percent ethanol. Wider use of vehicles that can use E85 blended fuel will reduce dependence on foreign oil while increasing demand for regionally produced ethanol, considered a renewable fuel.


Imes said the program was designed to highlight not only existing businesses, but the potential of the biofuels industry. In recent months, state officials have pledged $80 million in grants and low interest loans to projects that advance bioindustry technology and expand access to renewable energy products. State officials have also recently unveiled policy recommendations to protect working lands—the source of biomass feedstocks in agriculture and forestry—to further advance the Wisconsin bioeconomy.


Wednesday’s event was modeled after last year’s successful Wisconsin Green and Growing tour, which focused on efforts by companies to improve their environmental performance while boosting productivity and reducing costs. As with last year’s event, participants gathered at the conclusion of the bus tour to exchange ideas and discuss opportunities for additional cooperation among businesses, policy makers and non-profit entities.


The Wisconsin Green and Growing event itself included efforts to minimize the environmental impact of the program, including use of biodiesel fuel in the tour buses. This year’s project was sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as well as Imes’ group, the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative.