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Biorefinery group asks for casino funds

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 2:31 pm

$75,000 sought to help promote project

LITTLE VALLEY — A Syracuse biorefinery company has stepped up efforts to convince Cattaraugus County lawmakers to fund efforts to put a $120 million facility in the county with its abundance of hardwoods.

Applied Biorefinery Sciences hopes to break ground this spring on a biorefinery it plans to build in Wellsville in cooperation with Alfred State College. It would show the scale-model plant now operating out of a room at the SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry School in Syracuse can be commercially viable.

Dr. Thomas Amidon, a SUNY ESF professor and director of the Biorefinery Research Institute, said that five years from now the company, with encouragement from top SUNY officials, would like to build a second biorefinery somewhere in Cattaraugus County.

“It’s a clean technology,” he said. 

And a direct job creator.

Besides the 500 construction jobs to build the plant, which uses a hot water extraction process patented by Dr. Amidon, another 100 would be employed in infrastructure and 100 more in the logging industry, he said. In direct jobs, 20 would be employed to run the refinery, 25 for the fermentation plant and 20 in the pellet mill. The business model foresees another 100 distribution jobs and 200 retail jobs “downstream” from the biorefinery.

A resolution seeking $75,000 from county casino funds to hire the executive director of the five-county Seneca Trail Resources, Conservation and Development Council to help shepherd the project for the county Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism remains in the Development and Agriculture Committee.

Seneca Trail RC&D Executive Director Patrick McGlew previously worked on the biorefinery project in his role with The Nature Conservancy. He would work part time for two years under contract with the county promoting the project and helping to select a site for the biorefinery.

Preston Gilbert, a SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry professor and associate director of Community Regeneration, said the unique technique for extracting chemicals, sugars and other products from wood chips produced from low-quality, native-forest wood; biomass crops and agriculture residuals. He said more than a dozen products will be commercially viable.

“The research and development has been going on for 14 years at ESF,” Mr. Gilbert said. “There’s a pilot facility in a room at ESF. This is not rocket science.”

The Wellsville plant could be a research facility, bringing in partners from across the country to do research and show the science is viable.

Five years down the road, Applied Biorefinery Sciences and SUNY ESF would like to be able to take the biorefinery to the next level with a full-size commercial plant somewhere in Cattaraugus County. The next step would be to encourage development of five more similar plants across the state.

Dr. Amidon said plans are to extract sugars, cellulose, specialty chemicals and nano crystalline cellulose, which can bring up to $5 a pound. 

“Much of what we’re doing will displace products bought from overseas,” he said.

Jonathan Hollander, business development manager for Applied Biorefinery Sciences, said, “This is high technology. We are looking for a home for this technology.” 

The products capable of being extracted from the wood chips are all commercially viable at this moment, Mr. Hollander added.

The biorefinery would utilize 700 tons of wood chips a day and would have revenues of $43 million a year, with about $23 million in production expenses. The payback period would be under five years.

“I really like the concept,” said Legislator Joseph Snyder, R-Ischua, a lumber company executive. “I have some real concerns about costs.”

The current market for wood chips is higher than what the company proposes to pay, he said.

Dr. Amidon said the biorefinery would not utilize the same materials other companies, but a low-quality part of the tree with the bark on, a step down from firewood. Hybrid willow is an alternate feedstock for the biorefinery, he said, and some agricultural residue will work as well.

“I like the concept,” Mr. Snyder repeated. “I have trouble getting the economics to work.”

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