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Posted on  

January 9, 2004

Ethanol plant eyed for region

By John Bartlett

MEADVILLE Crawford County farmer George Greig wonders if in his fields of corn he's growing a small part of the nation's future fuel supply.

More importantly, he wonders if a facility turning corn into ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, would be feasible in the Meadville area and serve to push up and stabilize the price of locally produced corn. Ethanol is used in the manufacture of gasohol.

Greig hopes to get some answers Jan. 28.

A meeting planned for 10 a.m. that day at the Days Inn Conference Center here will explore the feasibility of an ethanol manufacturing facility in the region. Greig and two other area farmers helped arrange the meeting.

Leading the discussion will be Larry Johnson, a representative of Delta-T, a Williamsburg, Va.-based company that is one of the nation's leaders in ethanol facilities. Delta-T has a proprietary design for ethanol facilities and now has four plants operating in the United States and several other countries.

Greig, Sherman Allen and Doug Gilbert, all members of the Crawford County Farm Bureau, met Johnson at a Pennsylvania Farm Bureau conference.

"We were interested in what he had to say, so we talked to him after his presentation. When we told him about the local price of corn, he said he would be interested in coming out and talking to the people here," Greig said.

Allen said that corn grown in northwestern Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio sells for 20 cents to 35 cents less per bushel than elsewhere, largely because of the limited market.

Greig said one thing that is clear is that Crawford and Erie counties alone do not produce enough corn to make an ethanol manufacturing plant feasible, but that could change if one includes the corn produced in northeastern Ohio.

But Johnson said that building an ethanol plant is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, requiring a careful economic analysis and feasibility study.

"You first have to see what the local interest is and go from there, which is why I agreed to come and talk about it," he said.

A small ethanol plant of 20 million gallons annually costs about $1.50 per gallon to build, or $30 million. The costs per gallon for larger plants drop to about $1.10 per gallon for a plant capable of producing 50 million gallons or more of ethanol per year, he said.

The most common use of ethanol is as an automotive-fuels additive, but it also has a number of industrial and even beverage uses.

An ethanol/gasoline blend burns cleaner than gasoline alone, and is being used in many states like California, where cleaner-burning fuels are required. Currently about one-quarter to one-third of all the gasoline sold in the country contains ethanol.

An additional benefit of ethanol production is that the corn would not be lost as animal feed, an important consideration in Crawford County.

Greig said a byproduct of the manufacturing process is a type of brewer's grain that is even higher in protein and better for cattle than the raw corn.

Allen said he believes the Jan. 28 meeting can help local farmers, business leaders and others get a handle on what would be required to develop an ethanol plant in the region, the basic economics involved and the potential for area corn growers.

"We're basically farmers interested in the economic stability of the farm community, but hopefully this is something that could benefit the whole community," he said.


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