Wednesday November 11, 2009

Sunoco Biofuels Operation in Volney Looks Promising

Plant manager: All systems go at Riverview Business Park project
By Lou Sorendo

    Sunoco is positioning the former Northeast Biofuels plant in Volney for ethanol production by the second quarter of 2010.

    NEB applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last January. Sunoco acquired the $200 million facility in mid-April through an auction process.

    Sunoco plans on making $20 million in capital improvements at the facility. It will be using ethanol produced at the plant for its own use.

    The corporate behemoth paid $8.5 million for the former Miller Brewery property located in Riverview Business Park.

    Plant manager Brian Roach said steps are being taken to bring the plant back into operating mode.

    The facility experienced design flaws that resulted in issues with its piping system, bringing production to a screeching halt. Not being in production meant no cash flow, and to make matters worse, the shrinking national economy meant fewer borrowing markets.

    ICM is the primary contractor for the project. ICM is considered an industry leader in designing and building the industry’s most efficient ethanol plants.

    “It’s progressing along well,” Roach said. He said discussions are being held with ICM in regards to finalizing estimates and the schedule necessary to commence work necessary to fix the plant.

    “We haven’t finalized the schedule yet, which will dictate what the man-loading requirements will be,” Roach said. He did estimate that between 100 to 150 workers will be needed during the repair process.

    Roach said modifications are necessary involving the plant’s front-end instrumentation as well as to its distillation area.

    The facility originally was designed to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year. Roach said details are being finalized to establish what that total will be upon restart. He said that initially, it should be about 85 million gallons per year.

    Employment levels once the plant resumes production is expected to be approximately 55.

    Roach said Sunoco is re-examining all of the supplier agreements, so nothing has been finalized as far as feedstock sources needed.

    Meanwhile, carbon dioxide from the plant’s fermentation process will be cleaned and sold to the beverage industry, and it looks to be Linde Gas that will be handling that process.

    BOC Gases, an original partner, is now part of The Linde Group, which is involved as a commercial player in the project. It has a facility close to the ethanol plant, and feed gas will be shipped to them once the plant is up and running so it can test and commence operations.

    “My focus is getting the plant up and running and getting jobs back in place. We need to get people actively engaged in producing ethanol in Fulton,” Roach said.