TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

September 7, 2012

Biofuel energy plant coming

Company delivers letter of intent to build facility in Whitley County

CORBIN — Charlotte Underwood / Staff writer

A Kentucky-based biofuel company delivered a letter of intent to build an integrated energy facility in Whitley County during a press conference held at the Whitley County Judicial Center Thursday morning.

Patriot Bioenergy Corporation, which has an office in Williamsburg, announced its intent to move forward with plans to construct an energy facility that would convert sugar, or “energy beets,” into fuel within the next 24-28 months.

According to Patriot’s CEO Roger Ford, the company would use natural gas to spark the process, which is like a distillery getting alcohol from sugar.

“This is not new technology, but has been in use for hundreds of years,” Ford said, adding his company had been working for a number of years on an “energy project” in the area.

The building of the energy plant is contingent upon several factors including funding, construction of necessary infrastructure at the site and the approval of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Economic Development and/or Energy Incentives Board. According to Ford, if approved, the new energy plant at full operation could create between 100 and 120 jobs within the county, not including the temporary construction jobs that the building process will bring about.

According to the letter of intent, the job creation target for Whitley County would be 100 permanent jobs with an average salary of $35,000 in agriculture energy and transportation sectors. These positions would be filled after the completion of phase I of the project, which is the building of the transportation fuel facility. The construction of the facility, along with necessary infrastructure, will create an estimated 500 temporary construction jobs. Phase II, which is the building of a power plant that would eventually sell power to the utility companies, will create an additional 50 permanent positions and an estimated 300 temporary construction jobs.

Ford, along with Steve Libsack, who is the Director of Business Development for Betaseed, Whitley County Judge/Executive Pat White Jr., and several other officials met Thursday morning to announce Patriot’s intent to “move forward.”

Patriot Bioenergy Corporation has had more than 20 acres of energy beets growing throughout Whitley County to test growing conditions. Field trials on the energy beets have been going on in the area since the spring of last year. This spring, field trials were expanded by Patriot in Whitley and Adair counties.

“This beet that they are working with uses one- and two-row crop equipment and it makes Whitley County farm land viable as a crop production system. I am very excited about this partnership,” White said.

“This will give us a multiple revenue stream that will provide us with opportunities to create jobs in rural parts of the state,” Ford said, adding the hope was to produce enough of the beets in Whitley County and the surrounding area to provide enough feed stock to produce a fuel right in the county and then sell it into the local economy.

“We will be the first plant in the country when we get this built that uses a dedicated feed stock of sugar beets, but they have been doing this in Europe for a number of years,” Ford said.

The company’s plans to build the energy facility was strengthened in late July after the U.S. Department of Agriculture deregulated a variety of sugar beet being grown by the company in Whitley County.

The variety is referred to as Roundup Ready, or “RR” sugar beets. It was created through a partnership with Betaseed Inc. and Monsanto. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, notified Patriot’s strategic partner on the beet project, Betaseed, Inc. The Roundup Ready seeds which are genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, will be planted in Whitley County this fall. It will be the first site in Kentucky to have these specially engineered seeds planted.

“In our opinion this is really going to help us with a lot of issues with weed control and beets in this part of the country,” Ford said.

According to Libsack, the Shakopee, Minn.-based company is the leading sugar beet supplier for growers in North America.

Ford said this deregulation of the variety of sugar beets was an important milestone in the company’s plans to build the energy plant.

“Our business model will strengthen rural economies by providing additional crop opportunities to farmers and providing economic diversification in the local economy,” Ford said in the letter of intent.

While ethanol is mainly based from corn in this country, Ford sees energy beets as a good substitute.

“They’re phasing out the ethanol corn subsidy in America, and after 30 years, it’s gone as far as it can go. Why energy beets? First, it’s been selectively bred as a crop. We hope to produce two crops a year. It’s such a high sugar yield crop, and we can get on average 800-1,500 gallons an acre. We’ll need less land to produce it in the spring and fall months. And second, there’s a longer timeline in harvesting it. Once it comes in, it will continue to grow. Processing the beets would use natural gas more efficiently than with corn. We’ll get sugar directly from the beets, and we won’t need an extra step to convert the starch from corn into sugar. So that process is removed, and you shorten the distillation time,” Ford said.

To build the ethanol plant, Patriot is eyeing a 99-acre patch of land on Savoy Road in Williamsburg near the old concrete plant.

To fuel the plant, energy beets would be grown from some 6,000 acres of leased farmland around a 90-mile radius of the Williamsburg plant.

“Anything we can do to lessen our dependence on foreign oil is a big help to our nation. We’ll never see cheap energy because it’s market-driven. But at least we’ll create American energy with American jobs,” noted Ford.

“It’s always exciting when you have businesses looking at your community and especially in these economic times,” White said.

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