KETCHIKAN - A California company is considering Ketchikan for a plant that would convert wood waste and garbage into ethanol.
Mike Kauhfer, vice president of marketing for Nova Fuels, said his company may build a plant that would produce 15 million to 16 million gallons of ethanol a year.
Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel that is commonly used to increase octane and improve the emissions quality of gasoline.
"We have visited the town and surrounding area, and from our perspective, considering the deep water port, access to barge traffic, kind of property already there and past use, it looks like a very good combination ... for us," he said.
Nova Fuels, based in Fresno, is looking at building at least 10 ethanol plants over the next five years, starting with an operation planned near Palm Desert, Calif., he said.
"We've been in business planning and development for about 10 years, and have done alternative energy development," he said. "In one case, we were developing electricity from dairy manure, and electricity and usable heat in a municipal wastewater treatment plant."
An estimated $60 million plant at the former Ketchikan Pulp Co. site at Ward Cove could employ 35 to 50 people and could open in a couple of years, Kauhfer said.
"The technique is a clean technique. It's not the traditional distillation method of getting ethanol," Kauhfer said. "It does yield a significant amount (of ethanol) and it's a clean process."
Ketchikan Gateway Borough Manager Roy Eckert said the ethanol plant would cover an area south of the veneer plant at Ward Cove, including the old KPC power plant, wood room and storage silos.
The project could take garbage from communities throughout the region and could accept tires, diapers and sewer sludge, he said.
"It's going to be one of the better things we have happen," he said.
The borough's only involvement would be to provide land for the plant through a lease or lease-buy option, he said.
Most ethanol producers in the United States use corn or other grains to produce the fuel through a fermentation and distillation process. In comparison, conversion of wood waste into ethanol is on the forefront, said Peter Crimp, a project manager for the Alaska Energy Authority.
"The process is key," he said.
The authority was involved in the initial stage of a Southeast Alaska bioenergy project with Sealaska Corp. that was researching a cellulose-based ethanol plant in the region, he said.
"We remain quite interested in seeing a successful wood-to-ethanol project," he said. "Our feeling is that utilization of wood waste in Southeast is good for everyone, environmentally and economic development-wise, and we'd like to see a successful project."
Sealaska had been pursuing a thermal gasification process, Crimp said.
Nova Fuels would use a form of closed-chamber, nonpolluting gasification, Kauhfer said. A demonstration plant was built and operated by Precision Pipe Services of Denver.