Success of Florida waste-to-ethanol plant sparks new hope for shelved Lake County project
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent August 1, 2013 11:18PM
Scott M Bort/Post-Tribune President/CEO Earl Power of Powers Energy of America talks about the future ethanol plant in Schneider during an editorial board meeting at the Post-Tribune Wednesday afternoon in Merrillville. PTMET
Updated: September 3, 2013 7:46AM
Breakthrough technology behind the Schneider trash-to-ethanol plant proposed by Powers Energy apparently has been proven.
Whether that means construction of the plant in the small Lake County town will move forward remains to be seen.
INEOS Bio on Wednesday announced its plant in Vero Beach, Fla., is producing cellulosic ethanol at a commercial scale. This is the first commercial-scale production in the world using INEOS Bio’s gasification and fermentation technology for conversion of biomass waste into bioethanol and renewable power, according to INEOS Bio.
“(The Vero Beach team has) successfully addressed the challenges of moving a new technology to large production scale for the very first time,” said Peter Williams, CEO of INEOS Bio and chairman of INEOS New Planet BioEnergy.
“We expect to spend the remainder of 2013 putting the plant through its paces and demonstrating full nameplate capacity,” Williams said.
Powers Energy holds the Indiana license for the INEOS Bio trash-to-ethanol technology.
In March the Lake County Solid Waste Management District canceled its 2008 contract with Powers Energy to build the $300 million trash-to-energy plant after repeated delays by Powers to secure and provide proof of funding. A last-ditch effort by Powers to turn the deal over to a local construction consortium, SMC LLC, in an attempt to win favor and more time from the Solid Waste Management District, also was unsuccessful.
Lack of proof the technology works was a major sticking point for Solid Waste Management District board members, who ultimately grew tired of waiting for the project to move forward.
Lake County Councilman David Hamm, who chairs the Solid Waste Management District board, at the time said the board could no longer bet on an unproven technology. He said Thursday that the fact that the Vero Beach plant is operation does not change the position of the Solid Waste Management District.
“They are producing commercial grade ethanol from wood and vegetative matter only, not residential garbage,” Hamm said. “We need household waste reduced.”
Earl Powers, the company president, on Thursday said now that the technology is proven, he has access to funding and will be seeking written commitments of municipal solid waste supplies from sources contacted outside of the Solid Waste Management District. The project can move forward without the Solid Waste Management District, he said.
Powers has received multiple verbal commitments for a solid waste supply pending the outcome of production at the Indian Beach BioEnergy pilot plant in Vero Beach, Fla.
“Now we know it’s working and it’s working well,” Powers said, adding they will be contacting those prospective waste supplies for a firm commitment in the next several days.
Powers said the company does not have a signed option on the land, but he has been in contact with the landowner, Jim Huber, who he said is willing to try to work out another deal. Richard Ludlow, Schneider Town Council president, said the zoning and annexation approved for the project remains in place for Powers.
“I’m kind of excited about moving forward there. Hopefully the feedstock hasn’t been given to someone else,” Powers said.
Currently Indian Beach BioEnergy is using vegetation and wood stock to create the ethanol. Beginning in 2014, the plant, which has been constructed next to a landfill, will begin to use municipal solid waste as a feedstock, the company said.
Ed Cleveland, spokesman for SMC, said he was pleased to learn the technology had finally been proven.
“You know, we’ve been hoping all along, even after the construction group took a step back from it, we’ve been hoping it would come through. We believed in the process to begin with and thought it was the right thing to do,” Cleveland said.
While he is not sure of the future of trash-to-ethanol technology in Lake County, he is confident the technology will catch on quickly and use of it through INEOS licensing will spread throughout the country.
Cleveland expects naysayers will point to the fact Vero Beach is using vegetative waste as feedstock, but that was always the first step.
“I do believe that’s going to happen … whether it’s vegetative or municipal solid waste, the carbon-based components are still there,” Cleveland said.
Ludlow said he too is a believer. He remains hopeful whatever happens does so in his small, cash-strapped town. The infusion of cash and jobs a project like this will create is what is needed to change Schneider’s future.
“My thoughts are it’s not completely dead. I still have a glimmer of hope this project could move forward,” Ludlow said.