State working on Rentech plans

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

Natchez &8212; State officials are evaluating which incentive plan would best help Rentech Inc. build a 200-employee fuel manufacturing plant in Natchez.

&8220;We have great hope they will have a product ready to go in the very near future,&8221; Charlie Williams, chief of staff for Gov. Haley Barbour, said Friday.

Williams said the staff at the Mississippi Development Authority is evaluating the project to see how state incentives could pair with help the federal government would provide.

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&8220;We&8217;re geared primarily to infrastructure,&8221; Williams said. &8220;We&8217;re trying to see what help they will get from the federal government.&8221;

The difference between Rentech and other potential projects for Mississippi is that Rentech does not yet have a commercial manufacturing plant for its product &8212; diesel fuel made through a coal gasification process.

Rentech has been involved primarily in research and development for a new type of fuel &8212; one that takes coal, heats it to a gas, then cools that to a liquid used for a diesel fuel that is clean-burning and has a long shelf life. Byproducts include fertilizer, which Rentech has said it would market to area farmers.

Coal for the plant would be shipped down the Mississippi River from Illinois, where Rentech is also developing a similar plant in East Dubuque. Both plants would be Rentech&8217;s first commercial ventures into coal gasification. A South African company is currently the only commercial plant of this kind in the world.

&8220;We&8217;re not aware of any states that participate in the research hand development mode,&8221; Williams said. &8220;This is a little different than most things we deal with.&8221;

But while the product is unknown, the idea of being on the cutting edge is also attractive, Williams said.

&8220;We think there&8217;s a big market for their product,&8221; he said.

Rentech officials have said the U.S. Department of Defense is interested in the clean-burning diesel fuel that would be produced for its airplanes.

State officials have been impressed with Rentech&8217;s professionalism &8212; and their financial backers, Williams said. M.A.G. Capital and Credit Suisse First Boston are backing the project, which would be a $650 million to $750 million investment in Adams County.

&8220;They&8217;ve raised most of the money,&8221; Williams said. &8220;We just have to make sure what our money would be used for and where.&8221;

Williams said it would also help if Rentech could get some commercial or government contracts for the fuel.

Rentech hopes to build the facility at the old Belwood Country Club site. Company and county officials will soon be in talks over how to transfer the property, whether through sale or long-term lease.

Rentech&8217;s current timeline calls for construction over about four years, with 1,500 construction jobs at peak times, and fuel production beginning in 2010.