Buyer emerges for bankrupt INEOS plant
The INEOS biofuel plant, a high-tech facility built in South Vero with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that never worked right in three years of semi-operation, may get a second chance to produce ethanol.
A West Palm Beach energy company wants to buy the plant, which failed to produce marketable quantities of ethanol with its yard-waste fermentation process, and convert it to a cellulose-to-sugar ethanol process.
Daniel de Liege, who heads up Alliance BioEnergy, said his patented technology is much simpler than what INEOS tried to pull off, and that the plant can be adapted quickly to a mechanical technique his scientists are already using at the company’s lab in Longwood, Florida.
Alliance put in an offer on the 68-acre property after Arbor Bank, which holds a federally-backed loan made to INEOS through the USDA, foreclosed in November and began looking for a buyer. De Liege would not disclose the amount of his bid, but he said he has been encouraged by the bank’s response.
“The bank makes a recommendation to the USDA,” de Liege said. “They weren’t allowed to tell me what their recommendation was, but they said the concept has not changed, for it to be sold to someone like us at scrap value.”
“We’ve hired a law firm in Washington, D.C., the same firm that set up the original deal with INEOS, and our attorney and I are meeting with the USDA next week [on Jan. 5]. It’s all up to the USDA now. I’m ready to go today. If they say yes, we could have the plant converted and up and running by the end of 2017.”
And that would mean jobs, he added, for most of INEOS’ well-paid workers.
The INEOS plant on 74th Ave. is in Commissioner Tim Zorc’s district. When de Liege notified county officials in November that he had submitted an offer for the plant, Zorc lost no time in driving down to Alliance’s office in West Palm Beach to meet with him.
“I was so excited that someone wanted to take it over and produce ethanol out there and keep the employees,” Zorc said.
Zorc said de Liege has also met with county officials and solid waste staff about continuing the yard waste mulching agreement INEOS has with the county, and so far they’ve been sold on the proposal.
“We are not looking for any government funding; we are strictly privately funded,” de Liege said when asked if he was seeking county tax incentives or jobs grant dollars.
INEOS received both types of assistance as part of a package of government subsidies that went into its $130-million project.
Alliance is not interested in the INEOS technology – that has already been sold to a Chinese company, along with an INEOS plant in Arkansas. “The Chinese company only wanted the patent and the facility in Arkansas, but they did not want Vero,” de Liege said.
The process Alliance plans to use was developed by scientists at the University of Central Florida over the past 10 years. After finding out about the groundbreaking process, de Liege, who had worked with business partner Mark Koch making big-budget films for Paramount and other movie studios, gathered investors among friends and family and bought the rights to the patented technology.
The investors then hired process inventor Dr. Richard Blair from his post at UCF to head up their effort. Blair and his team set up a research and development lab in Longwood to make sure the process had commercial applications and could be operated on a large scale.
“I got invited to this meeting that was supposed to be about a film project looking for investors and it was really about this bioethanol technology,” de Liege said.“I was not even paying attention, playing on my phone until I heard them talk about making 3-cent-a-pound sugar.”
“We realized this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” de Liege said. “It would be great if we would all go green and drive our Prius, but the reality of the situation is that it’s got to be cost-effective. If it’s not cheap, most of us aren’t going to do it.”
The INEOS property becoming available was perfect timing, de Liege said, because after nearly a decade of being perfected by hundreds of scientists, Alliance’s process is now ready for primetime.
“We would hope to keep all the employees who know the nuts and bolts of the plant,” de Liege said, noting that he would need their help converting the INEOS equipment to Alliance’s process. “We would also take over the mulching contract with the county. I need that material – in fact, I wish they would keep whatever is on the site in place.”
De Liege said his process can convert the cellulose in plant material, wood and paper into very cheap sugar, which is then transformed into ethanol.
“It’s all about the cost of sugar,” he said. “At the end of the day, we can make sugar for less than 5 cents per pound . . . we can make ethanol for 91 cents.”
According to a Feb, 25, 2016, article in Ethanol Producer Magazine, competing companies project selling prices for their ethanol between $2.17 and $4.55.
Alliance’s mechanical production process is based on long-established coal-refining technology. It uses a ball-bearing apparatus to pound yard waste into a minute dust, releasing the cellulose within.
A Kaolinite clay catalyst is a key part of the process, which eventually yields sugar that is fermented in vats to produce ethanol, similar to a very large moonshine still.
The Kaolinite is filtered out and recycled, and de Liege said there is no waste from the process that has to be disposed of.
“Nothing will be going into the air and nothing into the water. Everything that we use could be put in your mouth. It might not taste so great, but you could eat it.”
Once up and running full-steam, de Liege said the ethanol produced at the reconfigured INEOS site will be a game-changer because it is not only sustainable but also economical.
“Everything that we need to live is around us; we’re just starting to figure out how to unlock it,” de Liege said.
Alliance Bioenergy Plus Inc. is a publicly traded company founded two years ago that trades over the counter under the ticker symbol ALLM.
Staff writer Samantha Rolfing-Baita contributed to this report.