Officials with a California company will hold a meeting tonight in the southwest Iowa town of Menlo to unveil a proposed first-of-its-kind bio-refinery project.
It aims to convert non-food bio-mass into bio-ammonia, or anhydrous. Officials with San Francisco-based Syngest Incorporated want to build the $80-million plant on a 75-acre site near Menlo.
Ravi Randhava, the company’s chief technology officer, says the techniques are environmentally-sound and Iowa is at the forefront of their use. "This is a great time to start looking at the dawn of a new age," Randhava says.
"I think that Iowa is going to be the Texas of the 21st century. The resources that you have are absolutely mind-boggling, to be able to produce different types of fuels, different types of fertilizers, everything that is good can come out of this particular soil."
Rather than use fossil fuels like natural gas, he says the company will produce anhydrous with $7-million worth of corn cobs each year — grown locally. That should make 50,000 tons of ammonia using a process called "bio-mass gassification." Randhava says using oxygen and nitrogen combined, along with corn cobs as a form of bio-mass, will produce a reaction called "SynGas."
SynGas is further refined to produce pure hydrogen, which combined with nitrogen, results in ammonia. Randhava says the SynGas produced at the Menlo plant could be altered to create many other forms of fuel, including some that are brand new.
He says those fuels include Fischer Tropsch mixed-alcohol fuels, methanol, butanol and dimethyl ether. If zoning for the plant is approved, site preparation will begin this fall, with construction to begin in early 2010.
The start-up process is likely to begin by the end of 2011, with full production underway by the beginning of 2012. Syngest CEO Jack Oswald says he’ll ask for a tax abatement to get the project off the ground and he’s looking at Department of Energy grants from the economic stimulus package to keep initial production costs lower.
If the venture proves successful, 20 similar facilities could be built across the state over the coming years. The company expects to hire 500 construction workers to build the Menlo plant over a two-year period, while creating 200 full-time jobs, 40 of which will be directly at the plant.
Combined with the purchase of locally grown corn, the area is expected to see an economic impact between nine-and-ten-million dollars a year. Tonight’s meeting is at 7 o’clock at the Menlo Community Building. Some three-dozen people attended the meeting last night in Guthrie Center.