By Tim Cox
Mercer County remains a prime location for an ethanol plant even after plans to build the world's largest such facility recently fell through.
The founder of Greater Ohio Ethanol talked with local government and civic leaders Tuesday about that company's plans to build seven regional ethanol facilities. Also attending the meeting were several members of Ohio Corn Processors Inc., the group of West Central Ohio farmers who are working toward siting an ethanol plant in the area.
Greater Ohio Ethanol founder Greg Kruger told the group his company plans to build a series of ethanol plants that will benefit by not competing against each other. The group is targeting 60-million-gallon capacity dry-milling facilities that produce ethanol and high-protein feed that can be used in the food industry.
Such a plant would have huge electric, water, sewer, natural gas and railroad access demands, Kruger said. The proposed site in Celina is close to the R.J. Corman railroad line, and local officials already have investigated the utilities issue.
Only water appears to be a challenge. An ethanol plant would need 600,000 gallons of raw, untreated water daily for its production processes. The plant also would need regular tap water for restrooms and other typical water uses. The company has broken ground on a facility in Lima and has plans to begin a second facility in Seneca County near Old Fort. The company's consultants now plan to look hard at west central and southwest Ohio for the next round of ethanol development, Kruger said. The consultants will study six communities that are considered "engaged" in trying to bring ethanol facilities to their respective areas.
Mercer County will pay $3,000 to be part of that study and to compete with five other communities to become the site for a future plant.
The key to success of Great Ohio Ethanol's facilities is the production of high-quality protein, Kruger said.
"Ethanol pays the bills, the protein is the profit," Kruger said.
Many ethanol facilities produce a low-quality protein meal that has been degraded through high temperatures and the production process. By using lower temperatures and other methods, a higher quality protein can be produced. That can be used by beer breweries, fish farms and other entities seeking high-grade protein meal, he said.
Investment potential by local individuals and the Ohio Corn Processors Inc. was not discussed. One member of the Ohio Corn Processors said the group got in "trouble" by soliciting local investment for the project. That was the first public acknowledgement that the investment discussion upset some of the other investors and experts working with the group to build a wet-milling ethanol facility near Celina.
It is believed that the local group of farmers was under pressure to come up with more money -- about $700,000 -- and decided to seek local investors. They held a press conference with The Daily Standard and a news story appeared the next day that invited interested investors to attend a meeting. The investment meeting was abruptly canceled and within a week, Ohio Corn Processors officials said their project was on its "last leg" due to "timing and financing issues."
Some of the experts and top investors the group was working with reportedly feared the investment meeting would violate Securities and Exchange Commission rules.
-- Staff writer William Kincaid contributed to this story.