By JIM MAGDEFRAU | Star Press Union Editor | YourWeeklyPaper.com
Too good to be true?
That’s what one Benton County supervisor thought as heard an update on the Fiberight ethanol plant in Blairstown, which was given Tuesday, April 29, at the supervisors’ meeting in Vinton.
Giving the update were Craig Stuart-Paul, CEO of Fiberight, Brian Ryerson, director of business development for Fiberight, and plant manager Danny Viall.
Since this winter, Benton County has been looking at the future of its current landfill south of Blairstown, as post-closure costs were found to be higher than expected.
Stuart-Paul and Fiberight are hoping to work with Benton County by offering to take some of its municipal waste, so it can be converted into ethanol and other products, such as compressed natural gas (CNG).
Fiberight bought the plant three years ago. Since then, they have an approved pathway from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get an environmental permit. They have engaged with the state to get 95 percent of permits required for the plant. They are also qualified as a recycling facility.
Stuart-Paul said the recycling is important, as they recycle 75 percent of the material that comes into their plant.
On the financial side, they have applied and received a $25 million loan guarantee from the USDA – one of only three given last year. To get that guarantee, they had to prove the technology they are proposing actually works. So, $7 million was spent in Fiberight’s Virginia facility. They also have $25 million in equity financing, allowing them to proceed with the project.
“We weren’t really ready to go until all of the money was committed,” Stuart-Paul told the board. “Now all of the money is committed, so we’re going to invest somewhere north of $50 million in Benton County.”
He hopes to have construction start towards the end of this year.
In an email to this newspaper, Stuart-Paul added they are planning on timing and managing truck freight to avoid having to go through Blairstown.
To get the raw material, Stuart-Paul explained they are building a spoke location in Marion, rather than having trash trucks driving through Blairstown. Trash is dumped at the spoke facility in Marion. Some materials are removed, so what’s left is the organic part of the waste stream. That is trucked directly to the plant in Blairstown. The truck is unloaded onto a conveyor belt, and moved to pulper where it is sterilized and deodorized.
They also voluntarily are putting up a bond, so if for any reason they close down, there will be bonding in place to clean it up.
They have a letter of intent with the town of Marion to build the supply facility. Marion officials have visited the facility in Virginia to see how the process works. Iowa City has also sent a delegation to Virginia. They are working to build a similar spoke facility at the landfill in Iowa City.
“At some point we will be quite happy to present the full design of the facility,” Stuart-Paul said, with a 3-D walk-through, to show what they are doing to prevent “fugitive emissions” such as odor. He wants to engage the board and community in the design process. They plan several meetings with the Blairstown community, and they invited the supervisors to attend.
Stuart-Paul wanted to make the facility available to Benton County, if they wanted, at the most favorable rates.
Supervisor Terry Hertle asked how many tons of garbage went into the county landfill each day. Benton County Engineer estimated it at 50 tons. Stuart-Paul expects 350 tons a day at the Fiberight facility.
At 20 tons per truck, it was estimated there would be 17 truckloads a day.
Referring to Benton County, Stuart-Paul said he knew the landfill situation was “constantly fluid,” adding, “We are building a facility right there. If there is an extent we can help Benton County in doing so, we are all open to discussion.”
One option is building a transfer station spoke at the Benton County Landfill.
When asked about the natural gas used to run the facility, Stuart-Paul said it would use its own gas through its digester.
Stuart-Paul said Viall will meet with the current landfill study committee.
As for working with Benton County, Stuart-Paul said he’s not going to do it to lose money. What they will do is offer the best price. Other factors are the value of ethanol and plastic. If those markets improve, there could be a rebate.
“All I’m saying to you is we’re here. We’ll find a way to make it work,” Stuart-Paul told the supervisors.
“What kind of odor would escape your facility?” asked Benton County Attorney David Thompson.
“You can come down to our plant in Virginia and walk around it,” Stuart-Paul said. Both Marion and Iowa City officials both noted it was not odorous. A scrubbing process takes care of this.
As for Blairstown, he said, “I can guarantee you won’t smell anything relative to the 11,000 head of cattle that surround the property,” Stuart-Paul observed.
When asked about water usage, Stuart-Paul explained 20 percent of the waste coming in is water. The water coming out of the process is clear, though there will be a minimal contract with Blairstown for water.
This is all part of the engineering they want to show the public. “We’ve spent – to date – $21 million in developing this technology platform.”
“Anything that sounds too good to be true, you kind of wonder about it,” said board member Don Frese.
Stuart-Paul responded, “That’s why we built the demonstration plant. Come to look and see, touch and feel. The biggest thing is we’re putting OUR money into it … we’re not asking you for anything at all … so if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. No harm, no foul to you. It’s the nature of the business. You put your players on the field and make a measured investment.”
Thompson asked of the worst-case scenario of losing money and the plant goes out of business. Would they have enough to clean it up? Stuart-Paul said that is covered in the bond.
“The worst turning to worst,” Thompson observed, “would be ‘Rosebar the Sequel,’” referring to the business that recycled tires in Vinton several years ago.