MSU Biorefinery Training Facility opens

By Ron Kotrba
Displaced Michigan autoworkers, college students or even union laborers will have a place to learn new biobased skills at a Webberville brewery, where the Michigan State University (MSU) Biorefinery Training Facility was slated to open in late September. The new training facility will also give MSU researchers the opportunity to study advanced biofuels production techniques for various projects, such as one concurrently looking at biofuels and engine advancements to optimize combustion.

A three-year, $15 million U.S. Department of Labor grant under the Workforce Innovation and Regional Economic Development program is funding the brewery partnership, including equipment, on-site spatial modifications and training. The project originated with MSU chemical engineering professor Kris Berglund, who sought to put underutilized capabilities at Michigan Brewing Co., only 15 miles from MSU's East Lansing campus, to good use by teaching fermentation and early-phase biofuels production technologies to, among others, unemployed auto workers. The end result: a training program for those who were interested in entering Michigan's growing renewable fuels industry.

When Marysville Ethanol LLC joins the state's four ethanol producers, Michigan will have a total capacity of 250 MMgy. David Hollister, CEO and president of the Prima Civitas Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in part by MSU to act as a broker in the technology transfer of university research and development, said the state has to "import" skilled workers to build and operate these plants. "This effort coincides with [university President LouAnna] Simon's vision of MSU leading the post-petroleum economy," he said.

Hollister told Biomass Magazine that cohorts of up to 25 attended trained at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center in Edwardsville, Ill., on several occasions while the Webberville brewery was installing new equipment from Europe.

In addition to housing the MSU biofuels training and research facility, the brewery also uses renewables. It makes its own biodiesel and fires its boiler with methyl esters to power its beer-making process, cutting the natural gas bill in half.