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$450 million biofuel plant in Rapides Parish will make 'green' gasoline

Nov 23

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11/23/2011 8:40 AM  RssIcon

by Jeff Matthews, The Town Talk, Alexandria, Louisiana, November 23, 2011 -- "Green gasoline" is coming to Cenla.

Local and state economic development officials announced Tuesday that biofuels company Sundrop Fuels, Inc. will build its first production facility near Alexandria.

The approximately $450 million plant will sit on more than 1,200 acres of land just off Interstate 49 northwest of Alexandria, adjacent to Cowboy Town in the Rapides Station area.

It will employ about 150 people with an average salary of $58,000 a year."This creates some real high-quality jobs," said Jim Clinton, president of Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.

"We're pleased with the number of jobs. We're elated with the level of capital investment. This is a business that trades outside the region, exports goods and services and imports cash. It's exactly the kind of business we have in mind to build this economy on."

"They don't need government loans, they're privately funded, they're ready to go," Gov. Bobby Jindal said. "Not only are these great-paying jobs, this is a great market for our timber industry, and it reduces our dependence on other countries for our energy needs."

The plant will use woody biomass and natural gas to produce liquid fuel -- billed as the world's first "green gasoline" -- ready to drop into a gas tank. Vehicles don't need to be modified to use it, and it doesn't need to be blended with petroleum-based gasoline the way some biofuels do.

"It's tank-ready, just like any other 87 octane gas," said Wayne Simmons, chief executive officer of Colorado-based Sundrop Fuels.

That's what makes the product unique, Simmons said. It will makes use of, rather than require a replacement for, the enormous infrastructure already built around gasoline, from the pipelines that transport it to the vehicles that use it.

Available infrastructure has been one factor that has historically limited using biomass for fuel production. Another has been the relatively low hydrogen content in biomass. To solve that, Sundrop Fuels' technology uses natural gas which, like wood products, is in ample supply in Louisiana.

The result is a process that converts nearly 100 percent of the biomass used into fuel (other processes discard up to 50 percent), is much more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based fuels and produces a product that is as affordable or more affordable than petroleum-based fuel, officials say.

Construction on the plant is expected to begin next year. Production is expected to start by the end of 2014.

The facility is expected to produce up to 50 million gallons of fuel per year. Sundrop Fuels plans to open new facilities yearly and have a total production capacity of more than one billion gallons annually by 2020.

Jindal hopes to land some of those facilities in Louisiana. He spun Tuesday's announcement as another step in providing good jobs that will keep more of Louisiana's bright young people at home and as a continuation of the state's legacy as one of the nation's energy leaders.

Officials also said that in addition to the 150 jobs at the plant, the project could generate more than 1,100 indirect jobs.

The process to land the facility was a competitive one, with several states bidding.

"It all came together within the last couple of weeks," said CLEDA Vice President Rick Ranson, one of the point people on the project. "It's huge, not just the 150 direct jobs, but the indirect jobs. We're happy about this one."

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