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03-18-06 Mercer County farmers try again for ethanol plant

By Tim Cox

  A group of Mercer County farmers have formed a new investment group and set up a new Web site aimed at bringing an ethanol plant to the area.

   Members of the newly created Mercer Energy LLP were part of a prior effort to site a massive ethanol facility east of Celina. That proposal fizzled, but group members say they are committed to getting an ethanol production facility built locally whether or not they are investors in the project.

  Mercer Energy members point to numerous benefits the community would see if their plans come to fruition. The group hopes to facilitate the "engineering, construction and funding of a 50-million-gallon ethanol plant," a news release says.

  "We are focused on bringing an ethanol plant to Mercer County," Mercer Energy Vice Chairman Ryan Schwieterman of St. Sebastian said.

  An ethanol plant would mean new jobs and investment and a new market for local corn farmers to market their crops. A 50-million-gallon plant would need 18 million bushels of corn annually to create an alcohol product that can be blended with gasoline and other products, including high-protein livestock feed.   "Our objective is to improve the local community through job creation and new developing markets for agricultural products," the company's statement says. "We are dedicated to the community because we are part of it, and because ... we believe that Mercer County will benefit locally."

  An ethanol plant would create an estimated 35 full-time jobs on-site and 100 other jobs in the community, company officials say. There are 165 million bushels of corn grown annually within a 50-mile radius, with an ethanol plant requiring only a fraction of that harvest.

  The distiller grains produced from ethanol plants are a high-protein feed, which is higher in nutrients than raw corn because of its concentrated content.

  "Livestock is vital to the local economy. The feed co-products derived from the ethanol process must be suitable and economical for local livestock growers to use in their operation," company Chairman Jim VanTilburg of rural Celina said.

  A separate investment group also continues to evaluate the area as the site for a future ethanol plan. Lima-based Greater Ohio Ethanol officials have said the Celina area is among its finalists as the site to build new ethanol facilities but have not announced a final decision.

Greater Ohio Ethanol is building a plant in Lima and plans to build several more throughout the state.

Schwieterman and VanTilburg said Mercer Energy would support Greater Ohio or any other legitimate proposal to build an ethanol plant here.

"Whatever it takes," Schwieterman said.

The group hopes to gain exposure for it venture with a new Web site -- The Web site will include updates on Mercer Energy's quest for an ethanol facility and other news and Internet links about ethanol.

  "We hope to use the Web site as a tool to keep the public informed about our status and the ethanol industry," Schwieterman said.

  Financing, engineering and permitting of a new ethanol facility would take 12-18 months with construction adding another 14 to 18 months to the timeline, they say.


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