LILBOURN -- The biodiesel plant in Lilbourn is on track to begin production by the end of the year.
"The construction on this initial stuff is just about done," said Stan Polivick, plant manager for Great River Soy Processing Co-op. "We're hoping to start production in September."
"I think everything has gone very, very well," said Gary Branum, board member and past president of the Great River Soy Processing Co-op. "The plant really looks good, inside and out."
The plant will use soybean oil to produce biodiesel fuel. "We're rated at 5 million gallons per year," Polivick said. He said it takes about a gallon of soybean oil to produce a gallon of biodiesel.
The Co-op had discussed also using chicken fat to produce biodiesel in addition to soybean oil but have since decided against it. "It just creates a lot of problems in equipment and with the final product," Branum said.
Construction on the plant began in November, according to Polivick. The construction cost is coming in at a little under $5 million, he said.
"The original contract amount was $4.7, $4.8 million and that's about where we're landing," Polivick said. The contracting firm for the plant's construction is Process Concepts of Fenton.
The plant's production building, which is 100 feet by 120 feet, has room for two processing units but will start out with just one.
"The equipment is not particularly large," Polivick said. "We hope to be able to put in another one in the not-to-distant future."
Upon starting production, the plant will employee 10 people -- eight shift workers and a secretary, who has already been hired, in addition to the plant manager. Accordingly, Polivick anticipates hiring eight more soon.
"I have done interviews, I have identified the people I would like to hire and notified them of that, but I have not hired them yet," Polivick said.
Polivick said the plant will not have to double the staff to operate a second processing unit but would probably just need to add four positions.
He said plans are to have two men working each shift. The plant will run 24 hours per day, seven days a week, according to Polivick.
"With an additional production unit, I would probably want three men on each shift," he said.
Co-op officials are hoping they will see not only the plant's completion over the next couple of months but also a change in the price of soybean oil.
"Market conditions are a bit crazy right now -- soybean oil has hit a three-
year high the last four days in a row," Polivick said. "Right now it would be a challenge to turn a profit."
Polivick said it appears that speculators are buying soybean oil as an investment but believes they have bought about all they will buy by now. "There's expectations that those oil prices will come down soon," he said.
There also appears to be an increasing interest in the product.
"Biodiesel is doing very well. There are other plants already in production and they're selling their products as fast as they can make it," Branum said.
Polivick said he would like to see demand for biodiesel increase locally.
"I am hoping to see some increased awareness in the general public about the availability of alternative fuels and the use of them," he said.
Polivick said he hopes to see the number of small users increase, "not just the big guys using it."