01/10/07 — Bio-diesel plant still coming, but no opening date yet

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Bio-diesel plant still coming, but no opening date yet

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 10, 2007 1:51 PM

Mount Olive's bio-diesel plant is still coming. It's going to take a few more months, but Atlantic Bio-Energy Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Edwards said it is still the company's goal to begin construction sometime this year.

"Hopefully we'll be able to break ground close to the third quarter of this year," Edwards said. "Hopefully we will be online for producing fuel by mid-summer '08.

"Of course, that is a moving target."

The project has been in the works since 2004, when the North Carolina Grain Growers Cooperative announced the creation of a new company, Atlantic Bio-Energy. It was only then that company officials began working to raise money for the project and create a design.

"This is a new company. (Two years ago) there was an announcement of an LLC and the intent to build a facility here," Wayne County Development Alliance president Joanna Thompson said. "In doing such, they've worked through a long process of an equity drive.

"Now, they are finalizing their business plan with the completion of their funding and they're finalizing a design."

The project, Edwards added, is scheduled to cost around $40 million, which has been part of the delay.

During the last two years as they got their investors lined up, construction costs -- building materials and the demand on contractors specializing in bio-diesel plants -- have gone up about 25 percent. Because of that, they've had to do some redesigning in order to meet their budget. Now, those efforts are about to be completed.

"I know it's been a slow process, but we think in the next 30 to 60 days we'll make our final decision," Edwards said. "We'll be able to say one of two things, either the project's on or the project's off."

But, he added, the only way the project would be canceled is if the new designs don't come in at budget and investors start backing out -- not a likely scenario.

"We don't foresee that being a problem," Edwards said. "I'm optimistic we'll be able to come in at budget."

The plant is scheduled to go into Mount Olive's industrial park on the old Mount Olive Highway, between N.C. 55 and the Mount Olive Airport.

Using primarily soy oil to create bio-diesel, the plant will have a 30-milllion-gallon-a-year capacity and will directly employ about 30 people. Bio-diesel also can be made from animal fat.

It is, Edwards said, a product that is becoming increasingly popular -- the reason contractors have become more expensive.

"Bio-diesel basically has no pollutants in it," he explained, adding that it can be used as a fuel alternative or a fuel additive.

And right now, he continued, the bio-diesel boom is growing the strongest in the Midwest, so having such a facility in Mount Olive is a big step.

"This will be the only facility of its kind east of the Mississippi," Ms. Thompson said. "It's not something they can rush into.

"It's just the nature of the beast. Some projects happen very quickly and some announcements take years before you actually see a physical plant taking shape. This is one of those cases."

But company officials are hopeful that Mount Olive residents will begin seeing a plant within the next year.

"We're moving along very well," Edwards said. "These kinds of projects just take a long time, but we're still very optimistic about finalizing our plans."