A national chemical company announced it has begun producing commercial-grade ethanol using yard and plant waste at its Vero Beach, Fla., plant.
But a top Lake County solid waste official said the announcement "means nothing to me."
The announcement comes four months after the Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board unanimously voted to kill its contract with Evansville-based Powers Energy of America to build a trash-to-ethanol plant in Schneider. The board, including its chairman, David Hamm, moved to kill the contract after four years had passed with Powers failing to secure financing for the $300 million-plus project.
Also at issue were questions about the ability of INEOS Bio — a national chemical company that holds the patent for the technology Powers planned to use — to produce ethanol using all carbon-based trash, not just yard waste.
In a news release issued Wednesday, INEOS announced it has successfully produced commercial-scale ethanol at its Vero Beach plant, which is only a fraction of the size of the plant that had been proposed by Powers for Lake County. INEOS acknowledged in its release it had been using vegetative waste, not all municipal solid waste.
However, the company said it plans to begin using other garbage in the ethanol production process sometime in 2014.
"We are delighted with the progress made by our team at Vero Beach," INEOS CEO Peter Williams said in a prepared statement. "They have successfully addressed the challenges of moving a new technology to large production scale for the very first time. Consequently, we are now pleased to announce that we are producing commercial quantities of bio-ethanol from vegetative and wood waste and at the same time exporting power to the local community — a world first."
Hamm, who also is a Lake County councilman, said Friday the waste district stands by its cancellation of the contract. The INEOS plant could be a year off from using municipal solid waste in its ethanol production, and Powers had been given multiple opportunities to come up with financing for the local plant, he said.
"To me, this is still not proven technology for what we would have needed," Hamm said. "We're talking about emptying our garbage cans, not just vegetative waste. This means nothing to me."
Someone answering the phone at Powers Energy's Evansville phone number Friday said CEO Earl Powers — and other Powers Energy officials — declined to take The Times' call seeking comment about the INEOS announcement.
Griffith Councilman Rick Ryfa, who also sits on the waste district board, said the district was led by Powers to believe the process was viable and ready to go, back in 2008.
"Many of us still have those concerns today," Ryfa said.