The Mark Of Zero

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

British company announces plans involving Fayetteville

BY MARSHA L. MELNICHAK Northwest Arkansas Times

A Fayetteville economic leader said Monday that news of an international company teaming with a Fayetteville research and technology company to create fuel for cars from municipal waste could change the world.

INEOS, the third-largest chemical company in the world and largest privately owned company in Britain, announced Monday that it aims to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol fuel from landfill waste based on technology developed in Fayetteville.

“This could be a pivotal event for Fayetteville. It could be a pivotal event for the world, ” said Steve Rust, president and CEO of Fayetteville Economic Development Council. The process developed under the leadership of James L Gaddy, president of Bioengineering Resources Inc. of Fayetteville, changes any carbon-based material into ethanol. “ We expect the Fayetteville site to continue to be the technology center for INEOS Bio as it grows, ” said Bruce Walker, site manager for INEOS Bio in Fayetteville. INEOS Bio was created July 1. It was created, according to a press release issued at locations worldwide Monday, “ to commercialize and license” the technology that developed during the last two decades by BRI. Details are vague. Neither the press release nor Walker would say if it was BRI itself or the process developed by BRI that was purchased. “ The team in Arkansas has now joined together with INEOS to create a new, stronger, multidisciplinary and global INEOS Bio team, which has the skills, capabilities and resolve to commercialize the technology quickly, ” reads the history of INEOS Bio on the company’s Web site. As of Monday, the BRI phone number for its location at 1650 E. Pump Station Road is answered “ INEOS Bio.”

Jobs What the announcement means for Fayetteville is also vague. The number of jobs the new company could bring to Fayetteville and whether commercial production of the ethanol will be done in Fayetteville are not known. The press release Monday indicated the company aims to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol fuel from biodegradable municipal waste in about two years. However, neither the press release issued by parent company INEOS nor Walker would say where the site for the commercial facility will be. “ We expect to announce the location of the first commercial plant fairly shortly, and we will aim to quickly roll out our technology around the world, ” Peter Williams, INEOS Bio’s chief executive officer, is quoted as saying in the press release. Reading from a questionand-answer sheet about the company, Walker said it could be expected to create “ a number of direct, permanent, skilled jobs” to operate the plant, in addition to “ a larger number of temporary jobs” during construction and “ other permanent jobs ” as part of the supply chain development. “ The exact number of new jobs has not yet been determined, ” Walker said. He said the Q & A sheet was not written specifically about Fayetteville but is about INEOS companies in general. “ As the press release said, over the next two years, the big priority for us will be to demonstrate the technology in a commercial facility, but the site for that hasn’t been identified yet, ” Walker said. He said the pilot plant is in Fayetteville and the laboratories supporting the development of some of the technology are in Fayetteville. INEOS Bio of Fayetteville has about 30 employees, according to Walker. He said a large number of them were previously BRI employees. “ In a sense, Fayetteville has been an incubator for the underlying technology and has scaled it up to pilot plant size. The next step is to scale it up to commercial size, ” Walker said.

For Fayetteville “It’s a super, super big deal to have the research facility here,” Rust said. “To have that in Fayetteville is really tremendous. They’re building the pilot plant, the first scale-up short of production model, and that will be where they do all the future research on this.”

In addition, wherever the commercial plant is built, the technology will be from Fayetteville.

He said INEOS Bio would be bringing people and jobs to Fayetteville, but he did not know how many. The greater scope, he said, was that it should encourage more recognition of Northwest Arkansas as the “ Green Valley, ” the place to go to connect with innovators and leaders in the sustainability field.

He said INEOS Bio’s news helps put Fayetteville on the map because it will get coverage in Great Britain, other parts of Europe and hopefully across the United States.

“This is not a flash-inthe-pan type thing. It’s going to continue and grow, ” Rust said. “ We are the Green Valley, and I think the biggest reason is that we have the mothership of sustainability, Wal-Mart.”

Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody described the INEOS Bio announcement as another block in the wall for Fayetteville as a center for sustainability.

“The plan is to develop a pilot plant here in Fayetteville that will be able to take our municipal waste and turn it into desperately needed clean fuel,” Coody said.

It also helps the area because it provides the green-collar jobs that Fayetteville is trying to attract.

“This particular situation is good for us to solidify our position in the world with the idea that Fayetteville, Ark., is a home for the new green technology, and that’s going to be very good for our local economy,” Coody said.

He said INEOS wants to put plants based on the Fayetteville technology all over the world. "This is not an overnight hit,” Coody said. “This is a long-term project, but true economic development for a city isn’t something that happens overnight.”

For the world The new process produces fuel from waste and eases waste disposal problems. It has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on foreign oil. The INEOS press release notes that until now one of the challenges with ethanol is that it is primarily manufactured from food crops. “ They’re turning corn into ethanol, but, you know, that’s crazy because you’re burning food in your gas tank. This is burning municipal waste, anything that’s carbon, ” Rust said. The ethanol produced by the INEOS process can either be blended with traditional fuels or replace them altogether, according to Monday’s press release. Williams is quoted in the press release as predicting that North America and Europe will see about 10 percent more gasoline being replaced with bioethanol. The three-step process has already been proven at the pilot plant in Fayetteville. According to the INEOS Bio Web site, the Fayetteville plant has operated continuously since 2003 on a range of waste materials. The first step of the process is intense heat, which reduces the organic material to a gas. The gas is cooled and combined with a bacteria developed by BRI to produce ethanol. The ethanol is then purified to make it ready for use in cars.

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