Sugar ethanol is setting up camp in the south! Over the next ten years, expect to see three new sugar mills and four new ethanol plants open shop in Louisiana, generating an estimated 100 million gallons of sugar-based ethanol annually. Louisiana Green Fuels, an investment group owned by Inverandino and the Lake Charles Cane Cooperative, has purchased three sugar mills ruined by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, one of which was state owned and purchased for $60 million. Funding for the projects is coming from the Santacoloma family of Columbia, which controls Inverandino.
Additional financial help is coming from the state of Louisiana itself, including issuing $133 million in industrial development revenue bonds through the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority, $100 million of which is tax exempt. With the likelihood of these mills and ethanol plants creating thousands of jobs and significant revenue for the state, it is no wonder Louisiana is doing what it can to help the project along. LGF has also said it plans to buy the bulk of its sugarcane and sweet sorghum locally, further helping the Louisiana economy. However, it will be importing high-test molasses, refined sugar and common molasses. It is thought that sugar, which produces an eightfold return on the fossil energy used in producing it will outstrip corn, which only yields a 1.3 ROI. With the politics of and misunderstanding around corn ethanol already making biofuels socially messy, it will be interesting to see how a solid run towards sugar ethanol might change the farming industry, as well as our ideas about crops-as-biofuel.
However cellulosic ethanol is also on the rise, and in the south to boot. Mascoma’s process can take trash to sugar to ethanol, and with its source being waste rather than a farmed product, I think cellulosic can be a more sustainable way to go if we’re heading towards ethanol. But for now, alternative fuel is alternative fuel and the more research and options we see coming down the pipe, the better for future improvements.