A San Francisco based company is planning to build an $80-million biomass plant in west-central Iowa. SynGest C.E.O. Jack Oswald says the plant near Menlo will be the first in the U.S. to convert biomass, primarily corncobs, into anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer and fuel.
"It’s a process called gasification," Oswald said. "Which is just another way of saying we burn them in a closed vessel, so that nothing escapes, and convert the gases that are created into the ammonia." Currently, most ammonia fertilizers are produced with natural gas. That process results in sulfur and other toxins being released into the air.
Oswald say the biomass process will be much better for the environment. "For every ton of product that we make, there are two tons of carbon dioxide that will not go into the air from the use of natural gas and also the all those other nasty chemicals and gases," Oswald said.
The SynGest plant in Menlo will use 150-thousand tons of corncobs per year to manufacture 50,000 tons of bio-ammonia. Oswald says the company will almost exclusively with farmers in a 40-mile radius of the plant. "We really will be mutually dependent, in the sense that we rely on getting local biomass input and also, we’ll be selling product back out to the same community," Oswald said.
Farmers have struggled with soaring fertilizer costs in recent years as half of the ammonia used in the U.S. is imported. Construction on the Menlo biomass plant could begin this Fall. An estimated 500 workers will be needed to build the plant, which could open within two years.
Oswald says around 40 people will manage and operate the plant, while another 100 to 200 workers will "directly or indirectly" provide "logistics and support" for the facility. The company just recently signed an agreement to purchase 75 acres of land in Guthrie County. Oswald declined to discuss details, but says SynGest is working with the state and local governments to help finance the project.