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Enerkem plans to build smaller plant

PONTOTOC — A Canadian company has scaled back its initial plans to build a biofuels plant in Pontotoc County.

Enerkem Corp. said last year it would invest $250 million in a new ethanol-producing plant that would create 150 jobs. It also would generate another 300 construction jobs during construction and startup phases.

However, Marie-Helene Labrie, vice president of government affairs and communication for Enerkem, said the company now plans for a $100 million facility that will employ 40-50 people.

Construction of what Labrie called the “first phase” of the project should begin sometime next year, assuming it receives necessary state and federal environmental permits. Up to 130 construction jobs would be created, she said.

“We are very confident we’ve been through a similar permitting process before for our plant in Edmonton, Alberta,” Labrie said.

Labrie said construction would take about 18 months once Enerkem gets the go-ahead.

Enerkem, headquartered in Montreal, received a $50 million U.S. Department of Energy grant in December to help build and operate the plant.

Enerkem was one of only four applications tapped by the DOE to get stimulus money directed toward advanced bio-refinery projects.

Gov. Haley Barbour said in December that “projects like Enerkem fit the definition of what America needs to solve our nation’s energy problem more abundant, affordable energy.”

Barbour recently met with Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet in Biloxi at the Southeastern United States-Canadian Provinces Alliance international trade meeting, Labrie said.

At the meeting, Barbour noted Canada is Mississippi’s largest trading partner.

“Most of our country’s energy is imported not from Saudi Arabia, but from Canada,” he said.

Fifty Canadian companies operate in the state, which soon will add Enerkem.

Enerkem will convert about 190,000 tons of unsorted municipal solid waste from the Three Rivers Solid Waste Management Authority to produce about 10 million gallons of ethanol and “green chemicals” annually.

Labrie said the company’s initial investment will include a pre-treatment facility and sorting facility.

She also said Enerkem hopes to add a second “module” eventually, which would double production of the plant and also add more jobs. The second module would convert woody biomass to ethanol.

“We are also looking at other sites in the U.S. and different parts of North America to help meet the growing demand for renewable fuels,” Labrie said.

Enerkem is privately held, financed by U.S. venture capital firms Rho Ventures and Braemar Energy Ventures; Canadian investment fund BDR Capital; and company management.

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