Expansion plans at GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc. in Chatham are taking shape.
The company announced $40-million worth of investments in capital projects at the plant on Bloomfield Road in October.
Angelo Ligori, plant manger, gave an update on the plans during a presentation at the Chatham-Kent Farm Show Wednesday.
“Most people still think we’re a fuel (ethanol) plant,” said Ligori of the company’s future plans. “That’s ‘old-school.’ We’ve moved on. Our plant also makes industrial-grade ethanol.”
As a result, the alcohol produced at the plant goes into a wide range of products including hand-sanitizers, anti-freeze, vodka, mouthwash and cough syrup.
Ligori said the company plans to shift 75% of the production into industrial alcohol by the end of the year.
“More and more, we’re going towards industrial because that’s where the world is going.”
The plant in Chatham produces 200 million litres per year.
GreenField is also making progress on its research and development of cellulosic ethanol.
The company is adding what’s called a twin-screw extruder that is used in the process to extract and convert the sugars from cellulose in corn cobs and convert them into alcohol.
“There’s a huge amount of interest because we could sell this technology,” said Ligori, who expects trials on the process to begin soon.
Another project involves installing a second cogeneration system to produce electricity and steam from a jet engine powered by natural gas.
Ligori said the addition of the second unit would allow the plant to become self-sufficient for its electricity.
“So if we lose power from the grid, we can run the plant in its entirety,” he added.
Longer-term, GreenField is setting its sights on becoming a bio-refinery that would create even more diversity for its business.
One early example is the plant’s arrangement with Truly Green Farms.
The 22-acre greenhouse complex buys carbon dioxide, a byproduct of the ethanol process, to boost the production of its tomatoes.
The two companies are also working on plans that would see the greenhouse complex purchase waste heat from GreenField.
The company is also investigating uses for corn oil, which it began extracting in 2012.
Another potential area is expanding its sales of high-grade ethanol to end-users around the world.
Noting that synthetic ethanol is produced from the crude-oil process, Ligori said more companies, like cosmetic manufacturers, are seeking natural ingredients. Ethanol produced from corn could fit the bill, he said.
Ironically, pharmaceutical manufacturers in Brazil are also potential customers.
The South American country is a huge producer of fuel ethanol from sugar cane.
But the pharmaceutical industry requires a grade that is higher in purity.
The Chatham plant produces such a grade that has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration in the U.S., meaning that it would be easier for an American-owned facility in Brazil to use the Ontario product.
While cautioning that some of the developments are still years away, Ligori said the investments in the Chatham plant increase its value to $300 million and set it up well for the future.
“When you get to that size in our business, it’s pretty difficult to replace,” he added. “We’re here for a good, long time.”