12/17/04 — Biodiesel plant picks Mount Olive

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Biodiesel plant picks Mount Olive

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on December 17, 2004 2:00 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A multi-million-dollar biodiesel plant will be built in Mount Olive next year, state and county officials announced today.

Atlantic Bio-Energy will employ about 24 people initially and would hire an additional 20 if and when a planned expansion is completed.

If both construction phases are completed, the plant would be a $45 million investment.

The Atlantic Bio-Energy plant, which will produce fuel from soy oil and other products, will be located on old Mount Olive Highway across from Mt. Olive Pickle Co.'s distribution center.

Construction will begin in March and be completed in 2006. The plant will have the capacity to produce 15 million to 20 million gallons of biodiesel fuel a year.

Wayne County officials had worked with the Grain Growers Cooperative since February 2003 to land the project.

"This is a classic case of perseverance," said Joanna Thompson, president of the Wayne Economic Development Commission. "The Grain Growers did not give up on this concept and their dream to make this plant a reality. And for two years the EDC did not give up on pursuing and persuading them that the Mount Olive site was the best location for them."

"The EDC is pleased to have been a part of this exciting project," EDC Chairman Jimmie Ford said, adding, "What a great way to end the year."

A news conference was scheduled for this afternoon. Interim state Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb was expected to make the official announcement.

The Grain Growers Cooperative was established in 2001 to explore new ways for the state's farmers to sell their products. The Wilson-based cooperative includes, and is owned by, more than 250 agricultural producers with farms in more than half the state's counties.

One of the cooperative's first proposals was to create a biodiesel plant that would provide an additional market for soybeans. The project gained support last week when the Golden LEAF Foundation announced it would make a $5 million grant.

That decision "gave the impetus that we needed to move to the construction stage," said Earl Hendrix, the cooperative's chairman.

The plant has received a second state grant -- $124,000 from the N.C. Department of Transportation's rail division to assist with the cost of three rail spurs from the CSX tracks.

The cooperative considered many locations, Ms. Thompson said, but chose Mount Olive for several reasons, including access to soy beans, the number of feed mills in the area, the average distance to processors, and truck and rail access.

The Mount Olive land had another advantage in that it was readily available. The land was owned by the Mount Olive Committee of 100, a private nonprofit organization that funds economic development projects.

The financing for Atlantic Bio-Energy is expected to be completed early next year.

The Mount Olive plant will use renewable sources, such as soy oil and rendered and yellow grease, to make fuel.

Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative fuel, according to the National Biodiesel Board. It contains no petroleum but can be blended with petroleum products in levels ranging from 2 percent to 20 percent.

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification that creates two products -- methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin (usually sold to be used in soaps and other products).

Vehicles that use biodiesel, rather than petroleum diesel, substantially reduce the amount of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and other pollutants in their exhaust, the board says. Also, biodiesel vehicles produce no sulfur oxides or sulfates, which are major components of acid rain.

Biodiesel is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as fast as sugar. Since it is made in the U.S. from renewable resources such as soybeans, its use decreases our dependence on foreign oil and contributes to our own economy, the biodiesel board says.