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Elevance ready to step it up in early 2013

NATCHEZ — Elevance company officials said Friday that while no official timeline is in place, the company has done some construction and will start finalizing plans for its Natchez biorefinery in early 2013.

“First part of next year will be finalizing financial plans, approving (site) design and beginning to place orders for the larger and longer-lead time equipment,” said Andy Shafer, executive vice president of sales and market development for Elevance. “Following that would be the things that would be seen as construction in Natchez.”

The company has been working with local leaders and railroad companies to secure competitive rates, said Kevin Diesen, the Natchez plant manager.

Current work at the port that includes the replacement of thousands of railroad ties and bridges at the switching yard will ultimately be beneficial to the company, he said.

“Not having all of that (rail infrastructure) in place has had an impact on (business in) 2012,” Shafer said. “We had some business we could have made through on rail rather than truck that we weren’t able to do.”

The company ultimately plans to utilize rail, barge and truck traffic in the Natchez plant, he said.

Elevance has completed two capital improvement projects in anticipation of its longer-term plan to convert the former Delta Biofuels facility into a biorefinery.

Diesen said the company has replaced a 40-year-old cooling tower system and built a pre-treatment system.

“We have spent over $1 million at the plant for those two projects,” he said. “Those are both critical to the biorefinery operations. We were also able to do those in-house, so we were able to demonstrate our ability to manage costs in this challenging environment and save the company approximately $1 million.”

The engineering and design portion of the biorefinery retrofitting is nearing completion, while the plant’s capability as a biodiesel production facility has been utilized, Diesen said.

“We have produced over 10 million gallons of biodiesel this year, and that has really helped us understand the capability of the existing plant,” he said. “That will be very important in the design for converting the biodiesel plant into the biorefinery.”

Once the biorefinery is in place, it will likely use soybean and canola oil feedstocks that will be used to produce a number of different products for Elevance’s customers, who will use the products in — among other things — cleaning materials, lubricants and personal care products, Shafer said.

Elevance has a total of 140 employees, up from 100 at the beginning of the year, though Shafer declined to specify how many of those were in Natchez.

Before a big push for hiring in Natchez comes through, the first priority for the current Natchez personnel, Shafer said, will be to continue to support what he called “successful learning” from the company’s joint venture plant in Indonesia.

Members of the Natchez team went to Indonesia three times this year in support and learning roles, and Diesen said the trips — as well as future ones — will help educate and train Natchez employees for when the plant converts from a biodiesel production facility to a biorefinery.

“Getting that plant up and going and supplying customers next year, that will bring a lot of learning for Natchez as we bring that plant into the supply grid for us,” Shafer said.

This year, Elevance was set to make an initial public stock offering, but pulled its request for a $100 million IPO in August after the company was able to raise $104 million on a private offering.

In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded its 2012 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award to Elevance for its work using metathesis catalysis to produce high-performing, green specialty chemicals at beneficial costs.

The company committed to bringing 165 permanent jobs to Adams County when it purchased Delta Biofuels in 2011.