Three Coskata officials visit Greene County to discuss plans

Standing L-R are Coskata officials Jeff Burgard, Loula Merkel and Russ Read and Phillis Belcher, Executive Director of the Greene County Industrial Authority. Seated are members of the GCIDA Board.

Special to the Democrat:John Zippert, Co-Publisher

Three corporate officials with Coskata Inc., an Illinois based company, were in Greene County last week to discuss their plans for building a 55 million gallon biorefinery to produce cellulosic ethanol at a site in the Crossroads of America Industrial Park at Boligee.
The three – Jeff Burgard, Vice-President for Engineering and Operations; Loula Merkel, Director of Government Affairs, and Russ Read, Senior Project Manager – visited the proposed 150 acre site in the Crossroads Park and met with the Greene County Industrial Development Authority Board. Coskata has the site under options with the GCIDA and is actively participating in preconstruction planning including some required wetlands mitigation to improve their proposed site.
In discussions with the GCIDA, they expressed appreciation for the assistance and support provided by the Board and the cooperation of local, state and national agencies in advancing their project.
Coskata has received approval of a $250 million loan guarantee by a special program of USDA Rural Development toward financing of their project. The loan guarantee has a number of conditions that Coskata is working to meet to be able to close the loan and secure additional financing needed to build the Boligee facility.
Merkel said, “Completing the loan guarantee is the ‘gating item’ which will allow us to go forward with final design and contracting to build the biorefinery. We are within weeks of closing the loans and then we will spend the rest of this year completing the design and hiring the construction contractor and subcontractors to build major components of the facility.”
Burgard said, “It will take about 18 months to build the refinery and then 3 to 6 months for a start-up phase to get everything operational. Coskata is operating a smaller demonstration plant in Madison, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, where we are testing and perfecting our machinery and process. The flagship plant at Boligee will be on a much larger scale, as much as 50 times as big, and be a model for the type of operating facilities we hope to build around the world.”
Coskata’s cellulosic ethanol project is based on a proprietary anaerobic microorganism that digests syngas, made from high temperature gasification of wood chips, and efficiently produces ethanol as a byproduct. The ethanol must be distilled, separated from other components of the mixture produced, to provide the final product which is mixed with petroleum to make automotive transportation fuel and other products.
The ethanol is a renewal and sustainable product made from wood chips which will help to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil imports. Part of the reason for locating the plant in Greene County is the abundant availability of the wood which serves as the raw material for the project. Coskata converts roughly a ton of wood chips into 100 gallons of ethanol fuel.
Read said, “ Coskata expects to employ about 300 people in the construction phase and 700 in the operational phase, including 125 in the plant and 500 to 600 sourcing and chipping wood for the plant. You will soon be seeing alot of me as plant manager because my job will be to find the people to pull all these components together and have them operating smoothly and sustainably.”
Merkel pointed out that in response to requests from the GCIDA Board, Coskata was setting up a quarterly meeting/conference call to discuss employment and contracting opportunities for local Greene County and surrounding county residents. Read said using local people was part of the company’s sustainability approach.
Danny Cooper, GCIDA Chair said, “We really welcome Coskata to our area and hope for a long term positive relationship for all parties. We are prepared to help and assist Coskata to become strong and creative citizens of Greene County for the long-term.”
Burgard stated, “The nation will need as many as 400 plants like the one in Boligee to meet the President’s goal of tripling the use of renewable fuels from 12 billion to 36 billion gallons by 2022. Coskata does not have the only solution but we hope this flagship plant at Boligee will be a model for licensing and expanding this technology to other areas of the state, country and the world.”

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