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Biotech firm tries to dock at Milwaukee port

The owner of Pewaukee-based Waters’ New Biotech Inc. wants to lease this Port of Milwaukee property, pictured Tuesday, tear down the vacant office and factory, and construct a 64,000-square-foot wood pellet plant.   Photo by Corey Hengen

The owner of Pewaukee-based Waters’ New Biotech Inc. wants to lease this Port of Milwaukee property, pictured Tuesday, tear down the vacant office and factory, and construct a 64,000-square-foot wood pellet plant. Photo by Corey Hengen

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

The success of a 64,000-square-foot project at the Port of Milwaukee hinges on how well one CEO can keep a secret.

Ed Waters wants to build a manufacturing plant to convert wood into pellets to be burned as power plant fuel. But, he said, he needs to keep the details of the process, which he devised, out of competitors’ hands.

“The biggest issue is the equipment we’re using itself is not proprietary,” said Waters, president and chief executive of Waters’ New Biotech Inc., Pewaukee. “But the way we’re tying it together has to be kept confidential.”

Waters said he spent 30 years in the trucking industry. He left in 1994 after his business suffered because the state prohibited placing in landfills tree trimmings with diameters of less than 6 inches. He left trucking with a knowledge of how and where to get wood nobody wanted, and he began researching renewable energy.

In the past year, he devised a way to compact waste wood into pellets that can be burned in power plants instead of coal or natural gas.

Waters said he wants to lease a 3.7-acre property in the Port of Milwaukee and build a facility to create the pellets. He then would ship them overseas to power plants in Europe. He said the facility could create 15 to 20 jobs.

There are more than 100 plants in the U.S. that create wood pellets, according to the Pellet Fuels Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit organization.

But Waters said his production method gives him an edge over the competition. He said he does not want to offer too many details about his methods because the secret ensures the success of the project.

“The main thing is we’ve been able to cut costs by doing it this way,” he said, “cut costs and increase capacity.”

The process is unique partially because it could use treated wood, such as construction debris, that most facilities reject, said Ann Beier, director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability.

“You are taking waste product that there really is no use for it and turning it into an energy source,” she said, “an energy source that is not petroleum or coal-based.”

On Wednesday, Milwaukee’s Public Works Committee will consider a 15-year lease for the port property at 1711 S. Carferry Drive. Waters’ company would pay $46,433 annually for the first three years of the lease, and $85,100 per year after that.

The company will receive a discount in the early years because it will spend an estimated $116,000 demolishing the more than 50-year-old Advance Boiler & Tank Co. LLC building on the property to make room for a new facility.

The project would represent a roughly $20 million investment, said Kristine Martinsek, chairwoman of the Board of Harbor Commissioners Economic Development Subcommittee. Waters’ New Biotech would be the second renewable-energy company in the harbor, following Innovation Fuels Inc., which last year leased 10 acres from the port to build a biodiesel fuel production facility, she said.

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