Rentech to build biomass research center

By Bryan Sims
Los Angeles-based biomass energy and industrial chemicals specialist Rentech Inc. received approval to acquire approximately 450 acres in Adams County, Miss., to build its Natchez Strategic Fuels and Chemicals Center, which is currently in the prefeasibility stage, according to company President and Chief Executive Officer Hunt Ramsbottom.

By using Rentech's patented process, the center would be designed to use petroleum coke (sludge) or coal supplemented with biomass as gasification feedstocks. It was unclear at press time how much biomass would be added to the coal because that is still being evaluated by the company, according to Julie Dawoodjee of Rentech's investor relations department. She said the amount would be determined by the end of the year. Construction is expected to be complete by 2013, Ramsbottom said.

The project will initially produce 25,000 barrels of ultra-clean synthetic fuels and specialty chemicals per day, and can be expanded to 50,000 barrels per day. The facility will also capture carbon dioxide during the production process and sell the product to Denbury Resources Inc. for enhanced oil recovery and geological sequestration.

"We have the flexibility to do large-scale plants or small biomass plants," Ramsbottom said. "Biomass alone isn't going to solve the energy crisis in 30 years when we're out of crude [oil], and that's why [Rentech] focused a lot of its technology on biomass and coal projects."

According to Ramsbottom, the center is one of three biomass projects being developed by Rentech. The company is also planning a biomass- and coal-to-liquids plant in West Virginia, and a biomass-based jet fuel facility in California.