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.”

Project to create 300 construction and 700 direct and indirect jobs USDA approves $250 million loan guarantee for Coskata to build biorefinery in Boligee

Coskata’s demonstration biorefinery plant located in Madison, Pennsylvania which is an operating prototype for the facility to be built in Greene County. This facility has been operating for a year testing the company’s processes, equipment, and operations. The Greene County plant will be 50 times as large as the demonstration plant and will be a model for future facilities

By John Zippert

The United States Department of Agriculture has given conditional approval to a $250 million loan guarantee which will allow Coskata Inc., a privately held Illinois company, to build a biorefinery in the Crossroads of America Industrial Park at Boligee, Alabama.
The guarantee will be the largest ever awarded for a biofuel facility, and will allow the Coskata supported facility to move forward with financing the construction of a 55 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol facility in Greene County, Alabama.
Danny Cooper, Chair of the Board of the Greene County Industrial Development Authority said, “We are very excited about this project. We have been working with Coskata and many state and local agencies for over two years in their plans to develop this cutting edge flexible and renewable fuel facility in Greene County, at our industrial park in Boligee.”
“Today’s announcement by the USDA sends a clear message about the Administration’s commitment to advanced biofuels, and provides further validation that Coskata’s technology is ready for commercial scale,” said William Roe, CEO of Coskata, Inc. “This is a critical first step that will facilitate Coskata working with the USDA, and proceeding to raise the balance of the capital needed for the project.”
The facility is currently the largest planned cellulosic ethanol facility in the country and is expected to bring approximately 300 construction jobs and 700 direct and indirect jobs to Boligee, Greene County, Alabama. The projected jobs include 125 at the plant as operators, supervisors and engineers and 600 indirect jobs working in forestry (logging), log transport, wood chipping, fuel transport and others.
Spokespeople for Coskata stated that “The Crossroads of America Industrial Park was chosen based on its proximity to an abundant supply of sustainably produced wood biomass, and because of the resolute support for the project by state and local officials, including the Greene County Commission and Industrial Development Authority,Governor Bob Riley, Senator Jeff Sessions, Senator Richard Shelby, and former Congressman Artur Davis.
“The company will be working with Governor Robert Bentley to bring this project into reality in the state of Alabama. The facility will create cellulosic ethanol, a high octane renewable fuel, with a superior environmental footprint compared to gasoline.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said, “The Coskata project has the potential to create hundreds of good quality jobs and economic development in an area of the state where they are sorely needed. This facility will allow Alabama to be at the forefront of our country’s efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create an environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional gasoline.
“While the process for finalizing the overall financing of the facility is expected to take several months, today’s USDA announcement is a critical first step in that process, and we’re optimistic that the project will come to completion.”
Nick Underwood, Chair of the Greene County Commission, said, “We are very supportive of this project and commend the work of Danny Cooper, Chair, Phillis Belcher, Executive Director and all the members of the Greene County Industrial Development Authority for bringing this project to this stage of development and providing the promise of much needed jobs in our county.”
“We look forward to working with the USDA and investment partners throughout 2011 to get the financing closed, so that this facility can proceed to construction, and help reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, and create significant economic growth for the people of Alabama,” said Roe.
Coskata has been demonstrating the commercial viability of its process for over a year at the company’s integrated biorefinery, located in Madison, Pennsylvania. The process leverages proprietary microorganisms and efficient bioreactor designs in a unique three-step conversion process that can produce fuel-grade ethanol from virtually any carbon-based feedstock, including wood and wood waste, agricultural waste, energy crops, and municipal solid waste.The process produces approximately 100 gallons of fuel from each dry ton of biomass.
Coskata is privately held, and to date has been funded entirely by its equity investors, including Khosla Ventures, Blackstone Cleantech Ventures and the Blackstone Group, Advanced Technology Ventures, GreatPoint Ventures, Total Energy Ventures International (part of Total, one of the world’s major Oil and Gas groups, and a top tier player in chemicals), Coghill Capital Management, General Motors, and Globespan Capital Partners.