County lends support to $450M biofuel project

County lends support to $450M biofuel project
Posted on 04/01/2019

The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday lent support to a project to build a $450 million biofuel plant in Gulf County.

The BioCarburante Company (TBIOCC), a Wisconsin-based energy company, would build the plant off State 71 north of the Port St. Joe city limits.

The plant would convert 2,000 tons per day of woody biomass, wood waste and forest residue, into synthetic gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel through a thermo-catalytic conversion.

Larry Hess, CEO of TBIOCC, said the technology, using heat, was purchased from Shell Oil Company.

The fuel is produced more cost-efficiently and with less of a CO2 footprint, Hess said.

“This is proven technology,” Hess said.

In addition, given the focus on wood waste and forest residue, the operation would not “compete with the food chain.”

“We don’t take any land used for the production of food,” Hess said.

The total investment into the county, according to TBIOCC, would be $450 million over 10 years while creating 564 long-term employment positions from the wood supply to the refinery.

“This is a game-changing project,” said Jim McKnight, director of the county Economic Development Coalition.

Hess said that once operational, the biofuel refinery would inject $28 million worth of economic impact into the county each year, while generating more than $4 million in taxes.

“That is twice the tax value of the (paper) mill” when it was operational, said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “And, through the jobs in the supply chain, that is over half the jobs.”

The support from the BOCC came in two forms.

One was support of TBIOCC’s pre-application for a $25 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., the entity established to disburse $1.5 billion in BP fine dollars into eight Northwest Florida counties.

The second was to begin the process, likely through a private-public partnership similar to that between the county and Eastern Shipbuilding, to facilitate, with the St. Joe Company, acquisition of the 116-acre site, which once was home to an L&P facility y.

That was among sites identified by Opportunity Florida via a survey underwritten by Duke Energy two years ago.

The survey focused on identifying sites for future economic development in a four-county area, including Gulf.

McKnight said Opportunity Florida and TBIOCC came to him with two options, McKnight favoring the State 71 site.

“It is not in a tourism corridor,” McKnight said. “You will not be able to see it.”

A meeting brought together county and company officials with representatives from Opportunity Florida, the St. Joe Company, Genesee Wyoming Railroad and CareerSource Gulf Coast to begin to hash out some infrastructure details, McKnight said.

The biofuel refinery would dovetail nicely with two economic development efforts.

The old L&P site had a particular attraction: the adjacent rail spur.

Once operational, the biorefinery’s output would be shipped primarily to New Orleans for “blending.”

That would mean some 2,000 rail cars of fuel generated per year, which, McKnight said, would provide the customer base to justify moving forward with long-sought repairs to the rail line connecting the Port of Port St. Joe to points north.

In addition, on the supply side there will be collaboration with Twin Rivers Land & Timber Company.

Twin Rivers submitted a Triumph pre-application as part of establishing a woody biomass plant in Gulf County using wood fallen during Hurricane Michael as an immediate supply source.

As with the Twin Rivers proposal, the TBIOCC efforts, there is a pressing time clock in getting to wood already on the ground before it is rendered unusable by degradation.

It would salvage some of the hundreds of millions of dollars suffered by the timber industry during Michael.