Friday, February 5, 2016

UPDATES: US gives CA firm $22M for PA biofuel plant

Millions "to validate the projected economics of a commercial scale biorefinery" in a small PA town that hadn't been notified of the plan

UPDATES: US gives CA firm $22M for PA biofuel plant


MORE: See my PhillyDeals column in the online version of the Dec. 7 print Inquirer here.

EARLIER: The US Department of Energy says it's giving San Francisco-based Solazyme Inc. some $21.7 million "to validate the projected economics of a commercial scale biorefinery" that would "produce algae oils that can be converted to algae-based fuels" at a site in Riverside, Pa., a town of less than 2,000, nestled in a bend of the East Branch of the Susquehanna, south of I-80, in Northumberland County, between Bloomsburg and Sunbury. List here.

The government is paying most of the cost. Solazyme will only have to put up $3.9 million.

What do the locals think of their prospective neighbor? "We don't know anything about this," Riverside borough secretary Rose Hagerman told me when I called for more info. "No one's told us."

I sent her the government's announcement, and told her my colleague Andy Maykuth says algae biofuel refineries have been proposed at sites near power plants. "We don't have any power plant near here," she told me. "The next one's in Montour County." But there is a former Merck & Co. drug factory in Riverside, she added.

UPDATE: Solazyme spokesman Michael Meehan confirms his firm will use the ex-Merck factory for this project. No word on timetable, how many job, why Pennsylvania.

EARLIER: The Merck plant is now operated by Cherokee Pharmaceuticals, a division of Philadelphia-based call-center operator PRWT Services Inc., headed by Willie F. Johnson, whose executives include former Gov. Mark Schweiker and former Philadelphia city councilman George Burrell.

Cherokee's Web site says the plant includes "a large available fermentation facility which until 2005, produced xanthan gum and since has manufactured various fermented products for external bio-technical companies."

I'm checking with DOE, Solazyme, PRWT and Cherokee to see how the dots connect.


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Joseph N. DiStefano
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