Va. Farmers Excited About Ethanol Plant Opening

4/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Linda McNatt Va./N.C. Correspondent

HOPEWELL, Va. — The rebirth of a never-opened bioenergy plant in tiny Hopewell could bring new opportunities to Virginia’s grain farmers and expand the varieties of grains grown in the area.

Vireol Bio Energy LLC, a company based in England, will invest $26.2 million in the plant that was originally built several years ago to produce ethanol. The plant was the former Osage Bio Energy facility. Construction was completed on the multimillion dollar facility about 10 years ago, but it never opened after the company, also based in the United Kingdom, filed for bankruptcy.

The original intent was to dismantle the building and all of its equipment, and ship it back to England, said Ben Rowe, managing director of the Virginia Grain Producers Association. But Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his economic entourage were able to persuade Vireol to stay in Virginia rather than ship the facility overseas. The company is expected to create 70 new jobs in Hopewell.

Producing ethanol from corn, barley, wheat and other small grains, Vireol will be the largest ethanol plant on the East Coast. The company is expected to purchase 21.7 million bushels of Virginia grains over the next three years, spending more than $100 million.

“It’s a great opportunity for Virginia farmers,” said Jimmy Oliver, an Isle of Wight County farmer. “Barley will definitely make a comeback, and that will be great for all of us. Barley is more drought tolerant than some other grains, and it would be great for around here.”

Oliver said he doesn’t see any immediate income from the plant. It may be a year or two down the road, he said, but he’s looking forward to the added income.

“We’re all very excited about this plant,” said Bryan Taliaferro, an Essex County grain farmer. “It will be great for Virginia corn and eventually Virginia barley. We all support the plant. We all worked on it very hard when it was built by Osage. It was depressing to see it go down. Now, it’s exciting to see it used.”

Taliaferro said he farms 3,800 acres in Essex County, only about 50 or 60 miles from the Vireol plant. The company purchased its initial supply of corn from Scoular Co., which operates a nationwide network of grain elevators.

The Hopewell plant was originally designed to process corn, but it has been refurbished to also process barley, Rowe said. Wheat and barley in Virginia are winter crops, harvested in midsummer.

“As of last week, the plant was up and running,” Rowe said. “Corn will be first, but barley is coming.”

And there may be even more grains to come, said Sparky Crossman, president of the Virginia Grain Producers. Sorghum, hulless barley and soybeans can be considered for biofuels. The leftovers from the ethanol process is almost the perfect food for cows, hogs and chickens, Crossman said.

Vireol Bio Energy plans to produce more than 170 million gallons of ethanol over the next three years. The ethanol will ultimately be blended with gasoline for fuel, and that could bring down the cost of gasoline, becoming a cost savings for all of the nation’s motorists.

“They’re just beginning to design small engines that will work on ethanol,” Crossman said. “These are renewable fuels, biodegradable. It’s good for all of us.”

Peter McGenity, chief executive at Vioreol Bio Energy LLC, said his company is looking forward to a long and successful future in Virginia and the city of Hopewell.

“Gov. McAuliffe and the commonwealth have recognized the potential of this opportunity and have provided us with the perfect springboard to launch into the U.S.,” he said. “Their support has been central to the decision to invest on the other side of the Atlantic.”

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