Marion trash-sorting facility delayed

Fiberight opening pushed later into 2015

The Fiberight Ethanol facility Thursday, August 22, 2013, in Blairstown, Iowa. The company plans to convert solid waste
The Fiberight Ethanol facility Thursday, August 22, 2013, in Blairstown, Iowa. The company plans to convert solid waste into ethanol and biogas. The company will also recycle material that it separates from the organic material. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

MARION — Maryland-based Fiberight LLC had expected to begin construction in June on a $15 million facility to grab organic material in garbage to convert into ethanol at a corn-ethanol plant it is renovating in Blairstown in Benton County.

Fiberight’s Marion resource-recovery facility, which is being supported by local tax incentives that have been approved by the Marion City Council, still is on track, Craig Stuart-Paul, Fiberight’s chief executive officer, said on Monday.

However, Stuart-Paul said the scheduled construction start won’t come until, perhaps, Thanksgiving, and he said an opening date now will need to be pushed back until later in 2015.

At the same time, Marion city officials on Tuesday will be discussing the future of the Fiberight project to see if Marion might want to modify its agreement with the company to better meet and protect Marion’s needs as the landscape in the United States for renewable fuels continues to change, Ryan Miller, Marion’s public services director, said on Monday.

Among the topics of discussion, Miller said, will be the production of biogas that will be part of the process of sorting, shredding and turning the organics in garbage into ethanol.

The original concept for Fiberight’s Marion materials recovery facility or MRF, called for the MRF to separate certain organics from garbage, which then would be transported to the Blairstown plant for production into ethanol or “trashanol” as the company calls it. The concept called for some of the remaining material to go into an anaerobic digester at the Marion facility for conversion into compressed biogas gas for use by the city of Marion in its fleet of vehicles.

Earlier this year, though, Fiberight said that its concept had changed and that the machinery and the biogas produced by it would be located at the Blairstown plant with the biogas used to power and heat the Blairstown plant.

On Monday, Marion’s Miller said changes in federal renewable energy tax credits related to biogas may make it worth Marion’s while to look at the biogas that might result from garbage brought to the Marion facility to see how Marion might benefit from it.

Miller said the Marion City Council discussion on Tuesday on the Fiberight project is intended as a status report on the project, not a major redirection of it.

At the same time, Miller said the city of Marion now has begun to talk about building a new Public Services Center across from the proposed Fiberight facility, which is to be located on nine acres of land in Marion’s industrial center at 4390 Third Ave., Marion, near the current Public Services Center.

A possible new Public Services Center may look at how biogas as well as solar arrays can help power the building, Miller said.

Fiberight’s Stuart-Paul on Monday said he was aware of Miller’s interest in the garbage-to-energy’s biogas, but for now Stuart-Paul said he is “trying to stay laser focused” on getting the first phase of the project built.

He said the start of the Marion project has been delayed, in part, because of the delay in securing permits for it. At the same time, renovation work at the company’s Blairstown ethanol plant, which is being transformed from one that used corn to one using organics from garbage, continues and must be complete by the time the Marion facility is ready to open, he said. He said the financing for the projects also is complex.

“We’re going through this in a measured, disciplined approach,” he said.

Marion’s Miller said the Fiberight project in Marion has secured construction permits, the engineering for the project is complete and the land for it has been purchased.

The city’s incentive package with Fiberight calls for the Marion Economic Development Co. Holding Co., or MEDCO, to serve as intermediary to allow Fiberight to obtain almost nine acres of land free of charge for its plant. Revenue from future property-taxes of up to a total of $850,000 at the site will be used to pay MEDCO for the property, the city said earlier this year.

The first phase of the Fiberight facility in Marion will be designed to take in 350 tons of garbage a day with plans to expand to 600 tons as part of a second phase, Marion’s Miller said. The first phase is expected to create 26 jobs, the second phase to add 17.

Currently, the city of Marion collects about 22 tons of residential garbage a day to take the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency landfill just north of the city at County Home Road and Highway 13.

As a result, much of the garbage that will go to the Fiberight facility will come from the commercial sector. The city of Marion has an ordinance which allows it to designate where commercial haulers in the city take their garbage, Miller said.

The city of Iowa City also has studied Fiberight’s Marion and Blairstown plans, but in May the city decided not to commit its garbage to Fiberight until it sees how Fiberight does in Marion and Blairstown.

The company has secured a $25-million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s biorefinery program as well as a $2.9-million grant from the Iowa Power Fund.

Darin Leach, public information coordinator with the USDA’s Office of Rural Development in Des Moines, on Monday said the USDA continues to work with Fiberight, the company’s lender and the USDA’s national office to finalize the USDA’s commitment to the project.

Fiberight operates a demonstration plant in Virginia.

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