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INEOS may bring UK waste to Vero


Since breaking ground in early 2011, INEOS New Planet Bioenergy, the $130 million advanced biofuel facility west of Vero Beach, has generated a lot of attention – but, so far, virtually no biofuel.

The company’s management has now apparently found a new culprit to blame for the plant’s failures: Our local Indian River County yard waste isn’t good enough.

So in an effort to produce biofuel, sources say yard waste is now going to be imported to Vero Beach – possibly from as far off as the United Kingdom, where the multinational company has its headquarters.

The plant has been plagued from the start by issues ranging from inadvertent production of cyanide to equipment malfunctions. Now the focus appears to be on the quality and content of the feedstock used in the biofuel manufacturing process.

An informed source says that the process continues to fail before the feedstock goes into the main fermenter, and that INEOS now plans to bring in feedstock from elsewhere in an attempt to remedy the problem.

The source said employees were told by members of the INEOS board last month of plans to import yard waste from the UK because “their screening process is more selective.”

On the face of it, hauling tons of trash across the ocean would seem a little far-fetched. But a company spokesman neither confirmed nor denied the report.

“The Vero Beach facility is a demonstration unit for the INEOS Bio technology.  As such, we bring in different feedstocks to see how they run on the unit. We don’t publicly disclose what feedstocks we try,” the spokesman said.

In answer to a query about the quantity of biofuel produced by the Vero plant thus far, the spokesperson gave the same reply as on previous occasions: “Our policy of not disclosing our ethanol production figures has not changed.”

Indian River County Solid Waste Managing Director Himanshu Mehta said he heard company executives discuss the possibility of seeking feedstock from other sources in meetings as long as a year ago, but Mehta added he has heard nothing recently about any specific plans to import feedstock.

With tens of millions of dollars in federal and state subsidies and hundreds of thousands in county grants and tax credits, the plant was built to a production capacity of 8 million gallons of ethanol per year, which would require some 300 dry tons of feedstock per day.

Through an agreement with the county, INEOS, located adjacent to the county landfill on Oslo Road, would process tons of yard waste from the county’s municipal solid waste stream, providing the county with landfill cover and its own biofuel operation with feedstock.

The U.S. Department of Energy says in the way the INEOS process is supposed to work, feedstock is heated to produce a synthesis gas that is cooled and cleaned before being fed to naturally occurring (patented) bacteria, which convert the synthesis gas into ethanol.  This is then purified for use as fuel in the transportation market.

The proprietary “feedstock-flexible” process has been in development for more than 20 years, and INEOS’ own tests at its pilot plant in Fayetteville, AR, have produced close to 100 gallons of ethanol per dry ton of waste, the company has said. But that was on a smaller scale and with different feedstock composition from that used in the Vero operation.

As INEOS continues to scramble to get the facility operational for sufficiently sustained periods of time to generate commercial levels of ethanol, another crucial issue continues to dog it.

The company’s stated goal is to sell and license the technology so others can build similar bioenergy plants to supply renewable power around the United States and the world. But so far, the plant has failed to produce anywhere near the quantities – or operated for anywhere near the minimum continuous time period – required for licensing.

The source said that local managers have been told that “we need a continuous 60-day run soon to license the technology.”