CURWENSVILLE – During a press conference on Thursday, Helios Scientific announced the launch of its cellulosic ethanol project in Curwensville.
Helios is a Pennsylvania-based science and technology firm and is the sister company to Illinois-based Axion Analytical Laboratories Inc.
“It’s exciting to be here in Curwensville,” said Dr. Lee Polite, Helios president and chief science officer.
“Helios is the Greek word for sun, and the sun is the ultimate source of energy for our planet,” add Polite. “The purest form of solar energy is stored as plant material in the form of cellulose and hemi cellulose, such as wood waste from Pennsylvania forests.”
Polite said the Curwensville facility will use cutting-edge technology to turn cellulose into affordable energy. The site will be a demonstration facility, and will use one ton of materials a day to produce 30,000 gallons of ethanol a year. The materials used in this process will consist of (primarily) waste wood, switchgrass, and corn husks, to name a few.
As stated earlier, the site will not only produce ethanol, but will be used to demonstrate the technology to existing investors and the investment community. Helios expects this will lead to funding for the first of 10 commercial-scale facilities to be built in Pennsylvania, starting in Clearfield County in 2011.
Polite said Helios’ competitive advantage is the scientific know-how, or protocols, to convert existing technologies into the first economically viable cellulosic ethanol conversion process.
“The Helios technology harvests the stored solar energy by liberating the sugars and converting them to clean burning cellulosic ethanol,” said Polite. “That means environmentally friendly transportation fuel, fermented and distilled locally to power the engine of our great country.”
“This is obviously very important for the local community,” added Polite.
He stated the plant would employ five workers, as well as those employed in the construction process. Polite noted that he has visited Clearfield County over the last few years, and believes the county has the labor force capable of completing the build phase.
Polite said that a minimal number of trucks will transport the stock material to the demo facility. He also said that initially, the plant will be fueled by natural gas, though other fuel sources are being considered.
Helios chose Clearfield County as the home for its new facility on the recommendation of state Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-74 Houtzdale. Polite said that initially, Pennsylvania was not on their map. He said George showed them an abundance of well-priced cellulosic material in the form of wood waste. He also noted the county’s progressive political climate as a plus.
George, who was on hand, expressed his excitement regarding the Helios project.
“This is the start of something that’s going to get much, much bigger,” said George.
George noted that the resources used in the cellulosic process are in abundance and renewable and that it is environmentally safe.
“This is going to continue to grow,” added George.
“I want to thank Representative George, who serves as chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee,” said Polite. “Chairman George invited us to Clearfield County, opened our eyes to the vast possibilities for renewable energy and worked with us to secure the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds that made this possible.”
The $2 million Polite referred to, a RAC-P grant, were transferred at a recent Clearfield County Commissioners meeting. The funds were originally slated for another ethanol project, SWAN Biomass. However, that project fell through.
Polite said the grant is not free money. He said Helios must contribute $4 million to receive the RAC-P funding. He stated that $2 million has already been spent on equipment.
While Polite could not provide an estimated start-up date, he said they would like to be ready to bid out contractor services on Nov. 1 and start construction on Dec. 1.
“I would like to start ASAP,” said Polite. “The sooner the better.”