Rentech: Natchez is ‘picture perfect’

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

NATCHEZ — Natchez is the perfect site for the future of everything Rentech Inc., wants to be, the company’s president said Tuesday.

CEO Hunt Ramsbottom met with a group of nearly 50 local leaders and businessmen over lunch to update the group on the coal-to-liquid company’s plans.

“This project is really picture perfect for what Rentech is trying to accomplish,” Ramsbottom said.

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The 450-acre Natchez site — the former International Paper location — has easy access to the river, where the coal used to start the process will be shipped in. Railways provide another means of transportation.

Pipelines will be used to ship the liquid fuel out.

But what makes Natchez stand out, Ramsbottom said, is the nearby petroleum industry.

Rentech’s process turns coal into liquid but releases carbon as a byproduct. Environmentally, the CO2 isn’t a good thing. But in Natchez the carbons will be captured and sold to the oil industry, which can use the product to further their own processes, Ramsbottom said.

“This is putting Natchez in front,” he said. “We know of sources that will buy all the CO2 for the next 20 years.

“I worry less today about this project than I did two years ago. This project has all the attributes to be the best project.”

With a plan in place, Rentech officials are moving forward on the Natchez feasibility study. In the fall, the company will move on to the engineering and design phase, likely working with engineers from Houston, Ramsbottom said.

Then comes his biggest worry.

“We’ll be circling up partners,” he said. “What I worry about is making sure we get a transaction that is economic. What’s the financing look like?”

Rentech already has a $15 million commitment from the State of Mississippi, and will work to find private investors in the coming weeks and months.

The facility is an estimated $3 to 3.5 billion project. Ramsbottom said Tuesday that the company is still shooting for a 2012 opening.

Workforce training will begin in the next year, with a core group of employees from Natchez traveling to Denver, Colo., and East Dubuque, Ill., for training.

Many of the construction workers — between 1,500 and 2,000 — will need to be Miss-Lou residents, Ramsbottom said, and much of the estimated 200- to 300-person workforce will be too.

The company has upped the estimated projected amount of fuel barrels produced daily from 10,000 to 25,000.

The Natchez Rentech will most likely produce jet fuel for the aviation industry, fuel for the military and specialty chemicals.

“What you can do to help right now, the message that has to get to Washington is that we have to get moving on true alternative fuels,” Ramsbottom said. “We’re putting environmental concerns in front of energy concerns. We are out of balance and depleting our oil. We have to get moving.

“It’s really important when we go to a state that we have the support you have shown.”