Cairo plant will produce biodiesel

Saturday, September 23, 2006

When construction is finished in about a year, the plant will employ up to 30 people.

CAIRO, Ill. -- Construction on a $60 million, 60-million-gallon-a-year biodiesel plant is expected to begin before the end of the year and create as many as 30 new jobs when its completed about 12 months from now.

"It's huge news for the city," said Mayor Paul Farris. "It's been decades since there's been any economic development here of this size at all. The town has been in need for years for employment opportunities."

St. Louis-based Bunge Ltd., a major food processor that operates a soybean processing division in Cairo, announced the plans, which are part of a partnership with Renewable Energy Group of Ralston, Iowa. REG is a biodiesel industry leader with about eight biodiesel plants up and running or under construction. REG has produced and sold biodiesel for more than 10 years.

The new plant will be built on Bunge's property in Cairo and be a commercial-scale biodiesel plant, said REG spokeswoman Alicia Clancy. The yearlong construction process will require 100 workers to get the plant built, she said. Groundbreaking is expected to be this fall, she said, and construction typically takes about a year.

As part of the relationship, Bunge's soy-crushing facility will supply the raw material, risk management and logistics expertise, she said. Soybeans will be transformed into biodiesel, she said.

Cairo was a good site, she said, because of its location to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, as well as its rail and highway access. REG said it had secured $100 million in financing, the largest equity investment in biofuels so far.

The money came from Bunge Ltd. and two venture-capital funds controlled by Natural Gas Partners of Irving, Texas, and ED&F Man Holdings Ltd., a global shipper of grains.

Clancy wouldn't speculate on the wages the new jobs will pay, but she said they will be above minimum wage. The jobs will include a general manager, an operations manager, operators, lab technicians and maintenance crews to man the plant, which will operate 24 hours a day, 330 days a year.

Biodiesel has some advantages over ethanol, she said. Ethanol is not a stand-alone fuel, she said, meaning that ethanol has to be mixed with regular gasoline and can't be used in all vehicles. She said biodiesel can be used in its final form without blending it with gasoline.

"It can be used in any existing diesel engine," she said.

Cairo Chamber of Commerce president Amy Farrow said the town is excited by the news.

"It's a nice boost," she said. "Bunge's always supported the city, the chamber and pretty much anything we do. This is just another indication of their commitment to our community."

While 20 to 30 jobs may not sound like much, she said it's a lot in an economically depressed area like Cairo.

"You've got to look at the long-term picture," she said. "It could lead to more jobs at some point. And that's 20 more people putting money back in the community. It's a positive any way you look at it. Twenty jobs in Cairo is a big deal."

335-6611, extension 137

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