BlueFire announces LOI from China EXIM to finance Fulton project

By Erin Voegele | October 27, 2014

On Oct. 23, BlueFire Renewables Inc. announced that it has received a letter of intent (LOI) from the Export Import Bank of China (China EXIM) to provide up to $270 million in debt financing for its proposed biorefinery project in Fulton, Mississippi. The announcement came less than a month after BlueFire announced it has signed a master engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract with China International Water and Electric, a subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corp., for the project.

Arnold Klann, CEO of BlueFire, told Biomass Magazine that the financing is currently expected to close at the end of the first quarter of next year. Once the financing is closed, Klann estimated the Fulton project will take approximately 20 months to build. Quite a bit of site work and other activities have already been completed at the site of the proposed plant, he continued, noting that the facility could commence operations as soon as April 2017.

Once complete, the project is expected to have the capacity to produce 19 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. In late 2013, BlueFire indicated a change in project capacity from the originally planned 19 MMgy to 9 MMgy. At that time, the company also said it was planning to integrate 400,000 metric tons of annual wood pellet production capacity at the plant. 

According to Klann, those plans have now changed. The company is once again planning to establish a facility with 19 MMgy of capacity. He also said BlueFire is still considering adding wood pellet production capacity to the site, but indicated those plans have not been finalized. “We had a partner that was going to come in and do the pellet plant with us,” Klann said, noting that company hasn’t moved its portion of the business far enough along so BlueFire is going to go ahead and begin construction of the ethanol plant once financing closes.

Klann attributes the LOI and EPC contract to a happenstance meeting several years ago with the National Center for Sustainable Development, which was involved in the development of clean technologies for deployment in China. Klann said he traveled to China with NCSD representatives, which led to meetings with various utilities and other companies in China. “That is how we forged the relationship with China Water and Electric, which…ultimately led to having them sign up as our EPC for the project,” he said, adding that the EPC agreement helped secure the LOI from China EXIM.

BlueFire has been working to develop the Fulton project for several years. The company originally announced plans to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in California. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the company a $40 million grant to support that project. In October 2009, BlueFire announced that it would relocate its proposed project to Fulton. 

In mid-2011, the company announced it had completed site work for the project and was awaiting financing.  Two years later, in March 2013, Klann told Ethanol Producer Magazine the project was not dead and was still in the process of raising financing. Later that year, the company announced plans to reconfigure the proposed project to include 9 MMgy of ethanol production and 400,000 tons of annual pellet production capacity. Those plans have since changed, with the proposed Fulton plant now expected to feature 19 MMgy of ethanol capacity, with no concrete plans for pellet production.