U.S. sugarcane-to-ethanol projects underway

By Ryan C. Christiansen | September 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted Sept. 15, 2008 at 10:24 a.m. CST

More companies are looking at producing ethanol from sugarcane in the United States.

Pacific West Energy LLC in Kaumakani, Hawaii, will lease land and other assets from sugar producer Gay & Robinson Inc. to grow sugarcane, and produce ethanol from sugar juice and molasses at a proposed 12 MMgy plant on the island of Kauai. After 119 years, Gay & Robinson is closing its doors. The company has operated a 7,500-acre sugarcane plantation and sugar mill on the island, producing approximately 50,000 tons of sugar annually.

Meanwhile, Coskata Inc. in Warrenville, Ill., has been in discussions with Clewiston, Fla.-based United States Sugar Corp., the nation's largest producer of cane sugar, about building a 50 MMgy to 100 MMgy ethanol plant adjacent to United States Sugar's mill in Clewiston, according to Coskata spokesman Matthew Hargarten. Hargarten said Coskata would potentially be interested in building multiple sugarcane ethanol plants in Florida, as well as cellulosic ethanol plants in the northern part of the state where woody biomass might be available for ethanol production.

The discussions and plans between Coskata and United States Sugar have been on hold since June when United States Sugar announced it was negotiating a $1.75 billion deal with the State of Florida. Under that agreement, United States Sugar would sell its nearly 300 square miles of land south of Lake Okeechobee to the state for Everglades restoration. United States Sugar would be allowed to farm the 187,000 acres of land for six more years before going out of business. United States Sugar is continuing to negotiate the deal with the state, which might include allowing some sugar assets to be used for ethanol production.