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Katahdin Cedar Log Homes Adds Ethanol to Fuel Mix

November 13, 2008

Increases Cedar Log Wall Energy Efficiency by 156%

Katahdin Cedar Log Homes added another alternative fuel option to its mill operations with the installation of a commercial ethanol distiller, which ferments culled potatoes from nearby farms into ethanol. The company anticipates to be able to produce about 100 gallons a day at a cost of under $1 per gallon. The ethanol will be used as a supplement to gasoline in mill vehicles.

"This is another piece added to our mosaic of alternative fuel options. We continue to look for new ways to lower our dependence on fossil fuels and keep our costs down," said David Gordon, president of Katahdin Cedar Log Homes. Earlier this year, Gordon completed construction on a 14 million BTU biomass boiler to recycle wood waste into steam heat for the mill buildings. "We took a look around to see if there were other unexploited sources of energy in Aroostook County and potatoes seemed like an obvious choice," he added. "Any time you can turn a readily available waste product - be it potatoes or sawdust - into an alternative fuel, that's a positive result."

Dick York, owner of Nature Circle Farm in Ludlow, Maine, and other local potato farmers, will be providing the culled or below grade potatoes. Potato farmers generally have to pay to dispose of culled potatoes, so this new option made sense for York. After processing, the remaining waste potato mash is collected by nearby livestock farms to supplement their herds' feed.

The potatoes are dumped into a large vat of the distiller where they ferment for 72 hours. The resulting liquid is processed in the distiller, where the ethanol is produced through evaporation and condensation. The resulting liquid is tested with a hydrometer to determine whether it has reached the 90 percent ethanol level, which makes it potent enough to fuel a gasoline engine.

According to manufacturers' specifications, most late model vehicles can burn a 15 percent concentration of ethanol additive to gasoline with no modifications. Gordon hopes to experiment and reach a 50-50 balance of gas to ethanol, and cut his vehicle fuel costs in half. Future vehicles purchased for Katahdin will be flex-fuel cars and trucks, which can use 85 percent ethanol. "In my research on ethanol powered engines, I learned that race cars use ethanol because the small percentage of water actually provides an added boost when the water changes to steam during combustion," Gordon said.

The distiller is being operated under the license of the previous operator until Katahdin's state license is approved. Though it is presently wood-fired, Gordon plans to connect the distiller to the biomass boiler and run the fermenter with steam heat. The boiler has cut Katahdin's fuel oil bill by 90 percent since its installation. "As we continue with our alternative energy projects, we've discovered uses beyond what we had originally envisioned," Gordon said.

Founded in 1973 by Foster Gordon and two associates, Katahdin Cedar Log Homes is one of the largest log home manufacturers in the U.S. and is the largest processor of Northern White Cedar in the world. David Gordon continues his father's legacy by providing high quality, cedar log homes at affordable prices. Based in Oakfield, Maine, Katahdin Cedar Log Homes has more than 80 employees.

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