Seneca BioEnergy seeks state funds to spur economic growth in Finger Lakes
The grape harvest is a manic time at Seneca BioEnergy because the company that started out to make biodiesel from corn, soybeans and grape seeds is now focusing on its most immediate revenue stream, grape seed oil for the kitchen — not the car.
Tons of pomace — the stuff left over after you squeeze grapes to get juice to make wine — arrive every day at the company’s warehouse on the grounds of the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, Seneca County.
Those daily shipments, about 40 tons a day from about 20 wineries in the Finger Lakes, are the first step in a circle of sustainability that will put another local product on the shelves of wineries and stores made from the stuff they throw away.
Michael Coia, CEO of Seneca BioEnergy, watched recently as grape seeds fell into a hopper at the end of a process that separates the seeds from the skins, stems and leaves. He said he sees many opportunities in the process that turns agricultural discards into useful products and sustainable businesses, such as the production of biofuel, live stock feed, bedding for dairy cows and fertilizer for farms....
The production of grape seed oil is just the first step in a long-term vision for Seneca BioEnergy and an entire industrial park planned to make use of 55 acres and more than 400,000 square feet of warehouse space at the former Seneca Army Depot connected to rail for shipping.
The idea for the Seneca AgBio Green Energy Park is to create a fertile setting for the development of startup and other green companies that will either recycle agricultural waste into new products or provide recycled products to local farm operations.
Coia and his partners are currently making grape seed oil, a commodity they found was too valuable as a culinary product and too expensive to turn into biodiesel.
Grape seed oil from Europe sells for more than $45 a gallon. It is light, used for cooking in high temperatures and studies have shown it may increase level of “good” cholesterol.
Finger Lakes Grape Seed Oil, the company created by Coia and his partners, sells 375-milliliter bottles of extra virgin Riesling grape seed oil online for just under $25. The oil is sold at local wineries and in Rochester at Lori’s Natural Foods.
“We have found a local niche and that niche is the local food movement,” said George Farenthold, partner and marketing manager of Seneca BioEnergy and the grape seed oil company. “People want to buy locally, they want to buy wholesomely and they want to buy things that are good for their families and grape seed oil is certainly that.”
But the production of grape seed oil is just one part of the equation for Seneca BioEnergy. The hope is to have the biodiesel plant in operation within the next six months with a capability of producing about 2,000 gallon a day. The fuel can be made from feed stock such as grape seed and soybean oil, waste vegetable oil, animal fats and algae and will come from local sources.
Seneca BioEnergy recently finished construction on a new processing room inside one the warehouse bays. The equipment for the plant was rescued from a flooded and bankrupt biodiesel plant in Harrisburg, Pa., and will soon be installed.
On the 55-acres owned by Seneca BioEnergy are two long warehouses divided up into bays, each with a separate door. Two renovated bays used by the company have new green paint on the exterior and new heated rooms on the inside with other improvements.
The rest of the warehouse space on each side of a rail line look nearly untouched since the Army closed the depot. Inside, the new owners found boxes of toothbrushes, shoeshine kits and other military sundries. But the plan is to have both facilities painted and occupied with green businesses working with each other and the community to create jobs and revenue.
Coia said he has companies ready to lease space at the park, including a feed stock processing company that will supply their biofuel plant, a company that produces feed for livestock and another that produces bedding from recycled paper for cows and other farm animals.
“We did not buy this 55 acres with rail service and more than 400,000 square feet for producing grape seed oil and biodiesel,” he said. “We purchased and permitted this property to be upstate New York’s first manufacturing facility for renewable energy, agriculture processing and environmental sustainability.”Project among several promoted by regional council for its economic potential
4:14 AM, Oct 5, 2012