gallon, coal-fired ethanol plant in Scott County that could be pumping the corn-based fuel as early as late next year.
The $175-million plant would also use 36 million bushels of mostly local corn a year and create 50-60 jobs to make ethanol.
Bootheel Argi-Energy LLC publicly announced its project Monday in the hangar of the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. About 300 farmers, agribusiness professionals and civic leaders turned out for the event.
What makes this plant different from others proposed in the state is that the board of directors visualizes it as a community-based project, said David Herbst, president of Bootheel Agri-Energy LLC Board of Directors.
"This board is so dedicated to do a community plant -- a plant that will benefit the community by providing jobs, creating profit dollars here and providing farmers alternative markets to sell to," Herbst said.
Bootheel Agri-Energy is comprised of 23 farmers and/or agribusinessmen and officially formed Sept. 26.
Based on a feasibility study, the board narrowed its plant location choices down to two -- a Sikeston site and a river site. Two locations in Sikeston -- the Sikeston Industrial Park and a lot near the Sikeston Power Plant -- and one river site at the Scott County Port in Scott City are being considered, Herbst said.
"Both sites are tremendous sites. We just want to make sure we pick the very best site, and that's the responsibility of the board," Herbst said.
Herbst pointed out there are very few 100 million-gallon plants in the United States and not one bigger than 50 million gallons in the state. A site of 100 or more acres would be ideal to build the ethanol plant and the coal-fired power plant to operate the ethanol plant, he said.
The board should make a decision on the site in the next 30 to 45 days, he said.
In addition to the jobs at the plant, several hundred construction jobs will be needed to build the two plants, Herbst estimated.
Herbst said the plant would produce grain alcohol, which would be blended with gasoline and distributed at fueling stations. It will also produce about 320,000 tons of dried distillers grain, which is a byproduct of corn after it's used to make alcohol, he said.
"We produce a lot of corn in the Bootheel, and we don't have an overabundance of corn storage and this will be an advantage for farmers to store corn," Herbst said.
The choice to fire the plant by coal instead of natural gas is due to the latest technology of a high-sulfur coal plant in Southern Illinois, Herbst said. However, the plant will also have to meet Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources mandatory emission regulations. "The cost of energy for coal is much less than natural gas, and in fact, it raises the profitability of the plant several times," Herbst said.
Natural gas is five times the cost per BTU, or British Thermal Unit, of energy versus coal. Coal costs $2.50 per BTU while natural gas is $12 per BTU, Herbst said.
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who spoke at the announcement, said reducing America's reliance on foreign sources of oil is very important for national security. She noted 60 percent of oil used in the United States is imported.
"It's time to start relying on ourselves," Emerson said. "And there's nothing that makes more sense to me than getting our fuel from our fields."
Missouri Farm Bureau President Charlie Kruse said he couldn't think of a more appropriate time to be involved in a project like this one.
"When you look at the price of gas and how dependent we are on foreign oil, there's not a better way to lessen our dependence on foreign oil than to do something like this," Kruse said.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was also on hand to praise the board's efforts.
The project originated earlier this summer, when Herbst and a small group of local farmers and/or agribusinessmen began talking about the possibility of an ethanol plant in Southeast Missouri, he recalled.
"An ethanol project in Malden had been under planning stages but we thought there could be room for two plants," Herbst said.
After researching existing ethanol plants, the group hired a firm to conduct a feasibility study to determine whether Southeast Missouri would work as a plant site. The firm spent several weeks looking at the logistics of corn movement, corn prices, infrastructure, transportation, utilities, etc., Herbst said.
"They came back to us and said, 'You guys have got a great idea. Southeast Missouri would be a wonderful place to put a plant. We're very confident it would be successful,'" Herbst said.
Missouri currently has three operating ethanol plants in the northern towns of Craig, Malta Bend and Macon. In addition, a plant in Laddonia is under construction.
Due to legal reasons, Herbst couldn't discuss financing specifics of the project.
Now the board is waiting on a business plan and prospectives, Herbst said. Several informational meetings will be announced in the weeks to come, he added.
The board's goal is to break ground for the plant in late spring/early summer with the plant to be operating within the next year or year-and-a-half, Herbst said.
Matthews farmer Mike Geske, a Missouri Corn Growers Association board member and Bootheel Agri-Energy LLC member, said the plant should interest everyone.
Geske said: "Anybody that's interested in the environment, cheaper gas in their automobiles, jobs in the Bootheel or anybody that's concerned about their children having to go to war to defend our oil supplies -- should be very excited about what's happening here today."