K.I. SAWYER - RenewaFUEL, LLC, the company planning to manufacture biofuel cubes from a facility near the Sawyer International Airport will be startings its full operations within the next few weeks.
RenewaFUEL, a subsidiary of Cliffs Natural Resources, held a ribbon cutting this morning, marking the official opening of the biomass fuel production facility.
"Cliffs and RenewaFUEL are very excited about our new venture in Michigan," said Bill Brake, chairman of the RenewaFUEL board. "We are very proud. We are very near the end of the construction phase."
Board chairman Bill Brake prepares to cut the ribbon, officially opening the new RenewaFUEL facility near the Sawyer International Airport today. The facility, which manufactures biofuel cubes that can be used in place of coal at industrial facilities with fewer environmental impacts, is expected to be up and running in the coming weeks. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
When at full capacity, the facility will produce 150,000 tons of the biomass cubes per year using sustainably collected wood and agricultural feedstocks, supplied from local sources.
While the biofuel cubes produce as much energy as coal, they also emit far fewer polutants into the atmosphere - 90 percent less sulfer dioxide, 35 percent less particulate matter and 30 percent fewer acid gases.
It is hoped that the success of the RenewaFUEL facility will demonstrate to other industries now using fossil fuels that a renewable resource can be used to power their production.
"It's intended to be marketed to industrial users to replace coal," Brake said.
Cubes produced by RenewaFUEL can be made to meet customers' specific requirements and can be used in most solid fuel systems with little or no required modifications. A portion of the RenewaFUEL cubes will be used to power the kilns at Cliffs Michigan Operations, with other customers including the Marquette Board of Light and Power and other industrial customers.
Although the biofuel cubes will be used to replace some of the coal used at Cliffs, Brake said the technology is not yet at the point where it could completely replace the coal.
"A lot of people expect biomass can replace the entire amount of coal," he said. "We're on the road to sustainability. We have to walk along that road rather than just jump to the end."
The RenewaFUEL plant, located at the Telkite Technology Park at Sawyer, cost $19 million to construct and will employ around 25 people, 15 of whom have already begun work at the facility.
Set up in what was once an empty building in the technology park, the facility includes two large buildings and a range of new equipment. RenewaFUEL purchases wood, grasses and other biomass from local loggers, sawmills and farmers. It is then ground down to the correct size about the consistancy of landscaping mulch - and dried before being cubed up.
Apart from creating an environmentally-sustainable product, the RenewaFUEL plant will also strive to be environmentally-friendly, even collecting the dust created by its process to be reincorporated in the biocubes.
"We have a lot of points where we recollect the dust," said Plant Manager Randy Walden. "It'll get cubed in one way or another."
Once cubes are being produced, the plant will also stop relying on natural gas to heat its dryer, using the cubes it produces instead.
"We're a green product, so we want to have zero impact on the environment," Walden said.
The process also uses what would otherwise be waste products from sawmills.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.