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Bioenergy firm ups its bid for INEOS plant


The West Palm Beach-based bioenergy firm angling to buy the defunct INEOS plant out by the landfill to produce ethanol from yard waste says it’s upping its offer for the property in hopes of speeding up the takeover process.

Daniel de Liege, CEO of Alliance BioEnergy, had a two-hour meeting with high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture decision-makers on Dec. 29 where he pitched his offer and plan for the factory. He said the officials were “very supportive and very interested in our technology.”

But Anchor Bank, which holds the USDA-backed $49-million note on the INEOS property, has hired a California broker to market the plant, which might delay a closing if the broker opts to open the sale to competitive bidding. To forestall that, de Liege said Monday his company is “significantly increasing” its offer.

Alliance is only interested in INEOS’ property, equipment and contracts with the county for the yard waste material, not the INEOS technology or the deep well injection rights that go with the site.

Rights to use the patented process INEOS attempted at the Vero plant have already been sold off to a Chinese company that reportedly did not want the Vero facility. Nebraska-based Anchor Bank began the voluntary take-back of the property from INEOS in November, but the USDA must approve the buyer due to a clause in the federally-backed loan.

“Everything is still going well from our perspective, but they’re not sure if they’re going to open it up to other bidders,” de Liege said of Los Angeles-based Ocean Park Advisors, the specialty firm handling the sale.

De Liege said county officials he’s met with have been very encouraging, and that several have contacted the USDA to support Alliance’s offer – which if accepted will keep the plant open and retain a number of well-paying jobs.

Time is of the essence with regard to making the deal work, however, de Liege said, because he needs a steady stream of vegetative waste to fuel his patented cellulose-to-sugar process for making ethanol and byproduct electricity out of grass clippings, palm fronds and other yard waste.

INEOS had a contract with the county to mulch and dispose of yard waste, using it as feedstock for its own ethanol process and spreading it as cover at the landfill.

“If they get into a bidding situation, the county could get into a contract [with someone else] for the mulching and the feedstock could go away, and if the feedstock went away, we would have to go to Plan B out of state,” de Liege said. “Hopefully Ocean Park and the bank would put the jobs and the impact to the community over a few dollars – because a few dollars is what we would be talking about if it goes into a bidding situation.”

Meanwhile, de Liege has been strengthening his network in the community based on his confidence that he’s going to buy the INEOS plant.

Since Vero Beach 32963 broke the story that Alliance is negotiating to purchase the plant, convert it and keep dozens of skilled jobs in Indian River County, de Liege said five key INEOS employees, both current and former, have reached out to him about working for Alliance.

Those key people, plus scientists from Alliance’s Longwood, Florida, research facility, would be needed to convert the existing bioethanol plant and electric generators to operate the simpler mechanical process Alliance uses.

Employing a technique developed by a University of Central Florida engineer and researcher, Alliance would pound the plant material with a ball-bearing device, adding Kaolinte clay as a catalyst to release the cellulose sugar and energy. The cheap sugar, produced for less than five cents per pound, would then be fermented into low-cost ethanol for industrial applications.

County Solid Waste Director Himanshu Mehta said the temporary deal the county has with an INEOS subcontractor to mulch yard waste at the landfill expires on March 31.

Regardless of what happens to the INEOS plant, he said, the county needs to secure an arrangement to make sure the yard waste gets ground up and has a place to go.

“We’ve got to take care of our customers,” said Mehta, who was among a handful of county officials who met with de Liege last Tuesday about possibly assigning the deal the county had with INEOS over to Alliance should the takeover proceed. “We’ve got to protect our residents and make sure we have a contract in place.”

The Solid Waste Disposal District is up against the steep hurdle of meeting a state-mandated goal of recycling 75 percent of the county’s solid waste stream, and the county is soliciting bidders for the mulching work and the work of hauling the mulched material off the landfill site. The bid packet is published on the Demandstar system, with opening of the sealed bids set for Feb. 17.

“We’ve written into the bid that we control 100 percent of the material; that means we can choose to keep some of it and have the rest hauled away, or we can keep all of it,” he said.

The county uses mulch as landfill cover, and also for landscaping at Sandridge Golf Course. The mulch that’s been produced since the operation was moved from INEOS to the landfill on Jan. 3 is being stockpiled for those purposes.

Getting proper credit for recycling yard waste is a key component of the county’s plan to meet the 75-percent state benchmark, but those credits were not coming back to the county while everything hung in limbo with INEOS and no one quite knew what if any energy or ethanol was being produced there. At best, the county got credit for a fraction of the tonnage of plant material being mulched by INEOS.

If Alliance purchases the plant and brokers a deal to take over mulching the yard waste, Mehta said he and Utilities Director Vincent Burke would need to go to Tallahassee armed with hard data about Alliance’s process to try to increase the recycling credits given to the county by FDEP to better reflect the actual tonnage of material being recycled.

The fact that Alliance’s process was invented by a well-regarded University of Florida scientist and tested at the university for years, then commercialized and further researched at a Florida location, could facilitate a good outcome for the county with state officials. “But we need to approach DEP now and start talking to them about how the recycling credits would work,” Mehta said.

If the mulch is hauled out of the county, say to a compost manufacturing operation, the county gets ton-for-ton credit, even though trucking the material increases the carbon footprint of recycling the yard waste.