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Proposed plant would turn trash to fuel

Minnesota company is looking to Empire Township as the location for a plant that will turn garbage to gold.

On Tuesday night Rational Energies presented a plan for a 200,000-square-foot plant that could start turning trash and other waste material into high-quality diesel fuel as early as 2012.

"This is not biodiesel. This would be considered No. 1 diesel fuel under all specifications," said Ed Driscoll chief executive officer of the approximately 18-month-old company.

Driscoll imagines selling the fuel the plant will produce to a wholesaler or directly to bus companies and other businesses with large heavy-vehicle fleets.

The biomass gasification plant would be located on 52 acres at the southwest corner of Highway 52 and County Road 46.

Some of the technologies the company would use are new. Others are scaled-down versions of existing technologies.

Essentially, trash is chopped fine and heated to about 1,500 degrees. About half the gas produced is distilled into diesel fuel. The other half is burned to sustain the process. The ash produced would be taken to a landfill.

Driscoll called the Empire site his company's preferred location for the plant, which would be the company's first and the first of its kind. He likes the easy access provided by two major roads. And he said the township government has been easy to work with.

Residents who attended Tuesday's meeting raised questions about smell, noise and truck traffic. Driscoll said the building, if it is built, would resemble a warehouse. He doesn't expect there will be a lot of impact on the area around the plant.

"Odor is really restricted to the building. Noise is restricted to the building. There will certainly be some truck traffic, but you have 30,000 cars a day going down 52 right now."

Driscoll expects about 700 vehicle trips a day at the plant when it is in full swing.

The plant as proposed would produce about 2,000 barrels of diesel fuel a day, a tiny fraction of what Flint Hills Resources produces just up the road.

"It's a spit in the bucket. It really is," Driscoll said.

The Empire Township Planning Commission held public hearings Wednesday to consider whether to amend the township's comprehensive plan to include an industrial land use and whether to amend zoning codes to allow alternative-energy facilities.

The facility will also need to create an environmental impact statement and get other permits.

Driscoll said the plant would create about 40 jobs during the design process, 250 during the 18-month construction process and 90 full-time jobs when it is up and running.