Rentech meets to talk next phase

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; A meeting today of Rentech Inc. shareholders could lead to a new level of commitment by the company to construct a $1-billion coal-to-liquids plant in Natchez.

The Colorado-based research and development company will seek shareholder approval of the Natchez plans at its annual meeting in Denver today, said Woody Allen, chairman of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority.

Allen, speaking at the Natchez Rotary Club meeting Wednesday, said plans for a Rentech plant at the former Belwood Country Club site would move into an &8220;implementation stage, turning it into a real, workable company.&8221;

Email newsletter signup

In the early 1980s, Rentech began developing its fuel technology based on the 1920s Fischer-Tropsch process.

The company tested the process at pilot plants throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2004, Rentech began the process to buy Royster-Clark Nitrogen Inc., which owns a nitrogen fertilizer plant in East Dubuque, Iowa. The company then will convert the fertilizer plant to a coal gasification plant similar to the one planned at Natchez.

The Natchez plant, upon completion, would become a strategic fuels center, where fuels would be available in time of disaster, when energy supplies are vulnerable.

Furthermore, Allen said the company &8220;can run their own power and continue to operate in time of disaster. The fuel has a shelf life of eight years or maybe longer. It will allow them to cool down the fuel in the form of wax and then heat it up again.&8221;

Allen held up a small vial of the clear liquid and explained the environmental advantages of the process.

&8220;The fuel is liquid and clear. The only odor may be one that is similar to candle wax,&8221; he said.

In addition to the fuel, byproducts include ammonia fertilizer &8212; &8220;nothing to go back into a landfill,&8221; Allen said.

In addition, the carbon dioxide produced would be sold to a local petroleum company for use in oil recovery in old oil and gas fields.

The coal-to-liquid process is simple, but the plant is huge, Allen said. &8220;This is a little over a one-billion-dollar project to put in the infrastructure and build the plant.&8221;

The plant will produce up to 10,000 barrels of fuel per day and will have the capacity to double that amount in the future.

Coal will come from Illinois and petroleum coke from the Gulf Coast, both by barge. The fuel will be shipped either by rail or by barge, depending on its destination, Allen said.

A portion of the $15 million state incentive to be signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour Friday will be used for port expansion. Canadian National has committed to keeping its rail line operational at least for a year, in part because of the re-opening of two Georgia-Pacific mills in Roxie and Gloster.

Estimates now are that the plant would have a 2011 opening. &8220;And it probably will be a year before you see the first work on the site,&8221; he said.

The company will employ 200 people, with salaries averaging in the $40,000 range, not including benefits.

However, the plant will have a big impact on other businesses and on employment in the area, Allen said.

&8220;They are ready to do the front-end engineering and design work,&8221; Allen said. &8220;The project manager has been hired.

Construction of the plant could put as many as 1,500 to work.

Rentech has been positioning itself to reach this point. &8220;The fact that they lost money last year is not a factor in this project,&8221; Allen said.

&8220;We&8217;re very excited. But it&8217;s not completely a done deal. It&8217;s the first half, and we&8217;re winning 21 to nothing.&8221;