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Aloterra has established a unique model for locally sourced biomass. Miscanthus is noninvasive as it is planted from a rhizome rather than a seed. Once planted, it will grow back for 20 years, even in poor soil, and it is ideally suited for a Midwestern U.S. climate with its rainfall and freeze cycles. Aloterra farms the grass and then processes it in its two facilities just miles away from the farm, where it is turned into pulp or formed into paper packaging product that is sold nationally. The packaging facility runs 24 hours on two shifts with 25 workers year round, while the pulping facility employs 10.
With a background in transporting gas and diesel throughout the US, Griswold eventually entered the corn-based ethanol trade and recognized the need for alternative sourcing. “Corn is a high-value product for food and various other uses, so I think it's wise to look for alternatives to corn ethanol,” says Griswold. “I wanted to produce a non-food grade ethanol.” However, while exploring processing plant investments for Miscanthus-based ethanol, Griswold saw that the yields weren’t nearly as profitable in ethanol as they could be for bio-based fiber. There was also appeal in a business that would allow Griswold to return to his farming roots. “I grew up on a farm; I like everything about farming,” says Griswold. “I fell in love with this land, and I liked the idea of leaving this to my grandchildren.”
In addition to the economic benefits of this model on rural communities, the product provides an incredible impact as a sustainable material source, including:
With an initial investment in Miscanthus, which needs to grow for two years before the first harvest — the long-term payoff of this high yield crop presents immense benefit to farmers. “The uptake of soybeans took decades,” says Griswold. “Today soy is in everything. If we can show the local farmer that there is a market and that this is profitable, we can build the rural economy in this country.”
Aloterra sees Miscanthus as an opportunity to bring life to the more than 50 million acres of idle farmland across the US, creating jobs to stimulate rural economies while harnessing carbon and providing a sustainable raw material with untapped potential. Aloterra views part of its role as providing a test case for the uptake of Miscanthus across the US. All of its acres are USDA approved and Aloterra’s farms are conducting testing to better understand and optimize growing conditions.
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Jon Griswold, Chief Executive Officer
Aloterra has established a vertically integrated agribusiness, which includes 4,000 acres of fast-growing Miscanthus grass and two processing facilities—all within the same rural Northeast Ohio community of Ashtabula. The woody fiber, which is almost identical to that of a hardwood tree, is transformed into sustainable materials, from biodegradable plates and food containers, to absorbent material for industrial use, to pellets for heat. It’s also a source for cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), a renewable source of biodegradable polymer additive that is stronger than Kevlar.