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KiOR reaches several milestones, engineering work for Natchez plant progressing

COLUMBUS — KiOR company officials announced Monday the reaching of several milestones at the alternative fuel company’s Columbus facility.

The company announced it had completed an uninterrupted 30-day run for key equipment, the Biomass Fluid Catalytic Cracking unit, and had made its first shipment of cellulostic gasoline Friday, kicking off what company officials said were to be regular shipments of both gasoline and diesel.

The company had made previous shipments of cellulostic diesel, but had not shipped fuel since March.

“Commencing regular shipments of gasoline and diesel is very significant for KiOR, as it reflects the continuous improvements in our operations at the Columbus facility,” KiOR President and Chief Executive Officer Fred Cannon said.

“We have been undertaking considerable reliability and optimization efforts in areas of the facility unrelated to KiOR’s core technology. The success of these efforts gives us confidence, more than ever, that the performance targets for the Columbus plant are attainable in the months ahead and that our operating assumptions for our next, larger Natchez plant are reasonable.”

KiOR announced last year a plan to build a fuel plant in Natchez on the site of the former Belwood Country Club that will use pine wood chips to produce cellulostic fuel.

The project is expected to create 320 direct and indirect jobs, and in May KiOR’s Chief Financial Officer John Karnes said the company was working through front-end engineering and that he believes the Natchez project will have a $460 million budget.

Production at the Columbus facility was one of the benchmarks company officials had listed as necessary for the Natchez project to move forward. The Columbus project started with the conversion of a closed paper mill, while Natchez will be built from the ground up.

Company spokeswoman Kate Perez said KiOR is looking at a late 2013 to early 2014 groundbreaking in Natchez, and that engineering work for the project is progressing.

“We really need 60-90 days of steady operational data from Columbus before we go to the financial markets to do the necessary fund raising for Natchez,” she said.

“We have made considerable efforts at Columbus to optimize production and improve reliability —  continuous improvement that will enhance Natchez.”

The Natchez facility is planned to be substantially larger than the Columbus facility, which Cannon said is currently the largest cellulostic production facility in the world. The CEO said Columbus would serve as the basis for the Natchez project’s design.