12/19/04 — Officials hope biodiesel plant grows in Mount Olive field

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Officials hope biodiesel plant grows in Mount Olive field

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on December 19, 2004 2:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- People could have driven up and down Old Mount Highway every day and never thought, "Hey, that soybean field would be an excellent location for a biodiesel plant."

But it is obvious to Earl Hendrix.

"Are you aware that there are eight and half million pounds of soybeans grown every year within a 30-mile radius of this spot?" Hendrix said in an interview Friday, his feet planted in that field.

"You have processing plants and feed mills nearby, good highway connections, a major railroad line," he continued. CSX railroad tracks run along the western edge of the property.

The Grain Growers Cooperative looked at a dozen sites for the plant, which will make an alternative to diesel fuel, "but this one stood out," Hendrix said.

That realization led to Friday's announcement that the cooperative intends to build a multi-million-dollar plant on Old Mount Highway, across from the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. distribution center.

A new company, Atlantic Bio-Energy LLC, will be formed to operate a plant that will produce an alternative to diesel fuel from soybean oil and other natural products. The plant will be under construction by March and completed in 2006.

Atlantic Bio-Energy will employ 24 people initially. These jobs will be in a variety of fields, some of which will be technical or scientific, said Hendrix, the cooperative's chairman.

Once it opens, the plant will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said. It will cease production for about 30 days a year for maintenance.

It would begin production by buying soy oil from other sources, but the cooperative wants to expand the plant to add an oil-producing operation. That would allow it to buy raw beans from local farmers, Hendrix said.

The initial plant will cost $20 million, $5 million of which was committed earlier this month by the Golden LEAF Foundation. If the second phase is built, the plant will be a $45 million investment.

Atlantic Bio-Energy will have to seek out buyers initially, but the cooperative expects a growing demand for biodiesel fuel. Federal law mandates sulfur, a lubricating agent, be removed from regular diesel fuel in 2006.

Biodiesel fuel neither contains nor needs sulfur, Hendrix said. Mileage should be the same for most drivers, if not a little better for biodiesel because it burns cleaner.

Eventually, biodiesel will be sold at gas pumps and motorists won't know the difference from petroleum products, he said.

More than a hundred people came to the plant's future site Friday for the announcement, which was made by Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb.

The Department of Agriculture has been extremely supportive of the biodiesel plant from the start, Cobb said.

"This is going to help agriculture remain as the state's No. 1 industry. ... I want to tell the farmers of this state, 'This is going to work and it's going to help us out.'"

The plant will provide the type of jobs that attract educated and highly skilled workers, Mount Olive Mayor Ruff Huggins said. "We'll be able to keep our talent at home."