Biofuels could boost Western UP

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ONTONAGON, Mich. (WLUC) - Plans are in the works to revitalize industry in Ontonagon.

New biofuels could give the Upper Peninsula economy a boost.

"It's a good fit for the region. It's a game changer," said Pat Tucker of Lost Bowl Development.

Biofuels, which are fuels made directly from organic materials like wood or algae, will soon breathe life back into the former Smurfit-Stone Container paper mill in Ontonagon.

SynSel Energy of Illinois and Lost Bowl Development of Ontonagon plan to begin construction next year on a $300 million dollar biorefinery.

SynSel chose the Smurfit-Stone site for several reasons.

"Ontonagon has the industrial infrastructure in place that we need, and it is right in the back yard of the feed stock that we need for the plant," said Brian Buckta, senior vice president of administration at SynSel Energy, Inc.

The biorefinery will convert local lumber waste wood into liquid second generation biofuel for cars.

This waste wood is normally left to rot at lumber sites.

"There is a lot of the type of material that they are looking for that can be used in this process. It is almost the ideal location, and there is over a hundred-year history on this property of that type of material being utilized," said Tucker.

A study by Michigan Technological University showed similar fuel releases 95% fewer greenhouse gases than traditional gasoline.

That makes the fuel cleaner burning than electric cars.

In addition to environmental benefits, the biorefinery will impact the local economy as well.

"I believe it will be an impetus for additional economic development in the UP that hopefully will revitalize the area," said Buckta.

When the plant hits full production in a few years, it could create hundreds of permanent jobs.

"They are looking at about 100 to 150 permanent jobs directly with the plant and then another 150 jobs related to operations," said Tucker.

The construction will create an estimated one-thousand temporary jobs.

Construction is set to begin next spring or summer.