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Published: Friday, 12/4/2009

Local plant poised to get $20M grant

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A $20 million federal grant toward development of a $25 million biorefinery near the University of Toledo's Health Science Campus in South Toledo will be announced during a news conference this morning.

The plant - an expansion of an existing facility - will make diesel fuel out of agricultural and forest-product waste.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are scheduled to jointly announce the grant. They will be accompanied by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) at the Research Drive site.

Red Lion Bio-Energy LLC., of Toledo, was one of three joint applicants for the federal stimulus grant. The others were the Renewable Energy Institute International and Pacific Renewable Fuels, both of Sacramento, Calif.

Plans call for the Toledo plant to produce 350,000 gallons annually of no-sulfur, high-cetane diesel fuel from biomass. Compared with petroleum-derived diesel, the biodiesel is expected to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 89 percent. Total pollution is forecast to be reduced by 40 percent.

Alex Johnson, Red Lion's president and co-founder, said the project involves expanding and improving his firm's test plant - which has been converting sawdust, cornstalks, and other organic waste into fuel gas since May, 2008 - to include a diesel production facility. Pacific Renewable Fuels is providing the technology for that part of the venture, Mr. Johnson said, and some of its equipment already has been moved to Toledo.

"It's the integration of these two processes" that the new investment will support, he said, and the result will be the first plant in the United States to produce road-ready diesel from biomass.

An initial test batch could be produced within two weeks.

Mr. Johnson said specific suppliers of additional biomass feedstock remain to be identified.

"We'll be using tree limbs, weeds, grass clippings - anything biomass," he said.

Red Lion's gasification system is considered environmentally friendly because it combusts material without fire, in a high-temperature but oxygen-free vessel.

The process and product are distinct from the soybean-based biodiesel refinery operation that Mr. Johnson has established under a different company, Midwest Biorenewables, that has a pilot plant on St. Lawrence Drive near the Port of Toledo.

Mr. Johnson also is president of Midwest Terminals of Toledo International, which loads and unloads ships at the Toledo port. That firm plans to use biomass-derived diesel in its vehicles and broker its use elsewhere.

Dennis Schuetzle, president of Renewable Energy Institute International, said the synthetic diesel is important because it can be substituted directly for petroleum-derived diesel without modifying existing transportation infrastructure.

"It is imperative that the United States develop ways to produce fuels that can be used directly in the existing fuel infrastructure and with high fuel-efficiency engines," Mr. Schuetzle said in a prepared statement. Using waste biomass now available in the United States, the "renewable, clean" diesel could replace 74 percent of petroleum diesel fuel now consumed in the country, he said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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