Florida Crystals, UF to build cellulosic ethanol pilot plant

By Bryan Sims
In an effort to jump-start Florida's dormant ethanol sector, the University of Florida (UF) and Florida Crystals Corp. have partnered to build and operate a 1 MMgy cellulosic ethanol research and development demonstration plant to be collocated at Florida Crystals' sugar facility in Okeelanta, Fla.

According to Joe Joyce, associate vice president of agricultural and natural resources for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) department at UF, the Florida state legislature appropriated $20 million to UF last year to build and operate the cellulosic ethanol demonstration facility. The university received six site proposals in response to its invitation to negotiate, with the Florida Crystals sugar milling site being considered as one of the prime sites. "It's an ideal site," Joyce said. "There are very few places in the state that could meet the requirements that we have."

The technology developed by UF professors will be used to convert sugarcane bagasse and urban wood waste into cellulosic ethanol. UF is currently negotiating with design/builders for the project. A construction time frame wasn't disclosed at press time, but both parties anticipated full production beginning by February 2009.

"Our mindset has always been finding a way to become fuel independent without becoming food dependent on foreign countries," said Gaston Cantens, vice president of cooperative relations for Florida Crystals.

The Florida Crystals site was appealing to UF because in addition to its sugar refinery, the company also uses an electrical steam generation plant that takes in bagasse and urban wood waste collected from local recycling companies to power the facility. When the steam generation plant isn't powering the sugar mill, it is the nation's largest supplier of supplemental bioenergy, putting 142 megawatts of electricity back on the public grid, enough to power 60,000 homes.