Kentucky waste-to-ethanol plant closer to construction

By Lisa Gibson
Posted August 20, 2009, at 10:48 a.m. CST

A waste-to-ethanol plant planned for Pike County, Ky., has suffered setbacks in the bleak economy but Agresti Biofuels, the company that will construct and operate it, and some Pike County officials believe it's inching closer to fruition.

The $200 million Central Appalachian Ethanol Plant, originally scheduled for construction around December 2008, has become a phased project in the face of a lack of funding, according to the office of Pike County Judge/Executive Wayne T. Rutherford. The project lost $5 million of its funding under the U.S. Senate congressional review process because it spent too much time there, according to Brandon Roberts, with Rutherford's office. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., had placed the money in the federal budget.

Now Agresti and Pike County are looking for private and state funding. Gov. Steve Bashear hopes $6 million in grants and energy or stimulus funds can be secured, according to Rutherford's office.

No environmental permits have been acquired yet for the project, but it's just a "matter of paperwork," according to Roberts. "We'll get them," he said. "There are no obstacles getting in the way of the permits we require," Rutherford assures. All that's left is putting together a funding package.

The 20 MMgy plant would take in waste from eastern Kentucky counties and once fully operational will be able to handle 1,500 tons of municipal solid waste daily. Pike County residents generate about 400 tons daily, which opens the door for neighboring counties to take part in the project. The plant will be located on 40 acres of property near the Pike County Landfill. It could bring in up to $1 million a year in revenue to Pike County, which would receive 5 cents per every gallon of ethanol or byproducts sold. There is also the potential to collect fuel and carbon offset credits, according to Rutherford's office. Other participating counties would see revenue, too.

Pike County's landfill is nearing capacity and a new one would cost millions of dollars. The project would provide an avenue for efficient disposal of the county's trash.

Several things necessary to build the plant are already in place including water and an access road. The plant would create 120 jobs with an annual salary of $43,000, according to Rutherford's office.

Agresti's process consists of dumping waste into a pool of water and sorting it into three groups in three layers: recyclables on top, cellulosic material in the middle and metals on the bottom. Recyclables and metals are transferred to a recycling facility and the cellulosic materials are used for ethanol production. The weak acid hydrolysis system uses gravitational pull vessels located underground to convert waste materials into simple sugars that are fermented into ethanol.