The renewable energy industry in Louisiana, and the economy of Caldwell Parish, got a boost with the announcement of a state grant to a proposed biodiesel plant.
Nearly one year after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the creation of a renewable diesel plant at the Port of Columbia, the plant has received a $15 million state grant for infrastructure improvement.
“The infrastructure improvement grant represents a major advancement for the Port of Columbia and Caldwell Parish," said Port Director Greg Richardson. "It allows the Port to improve the services it can offer and ultimately improve revenues."
The grant comes from the Louisiana Port Construction and Development Priority Program, which is run by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
Strategic Biofuels’ Louisiana Green Fuels Project, which plans to be operational by 2025, is leasing land from the Port of Columbia to refine renewable diesel fuel from forestry industry waste from the area. To reduce carbon emissions, the plant will be sequestered to ensure the plant has a carbon-negative footprint. Through these methods, the plant could produce upwards of 32 million gallons of diesel fuel each year.
When completed, the Louisiana Green Fuels Project will sequester enough carbon that it will be the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road, according to Paul Schubert, CEO of Strategic Biofuels.
"We had the North Louisiana community really support us tremendously, and that allowed us then to go ahead and move forward," Schubert said. "Nobody else in the industry that's making this renewable diesel fuel that we're making has anything like this."
On top of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, the project is expected to bring economic growth to Caldwell Parish, including the creation of about 635 jobs over a 30-month period, Schubert said. At peak construction, there will be about 1,500 jobs created, he said.
This $15 million grant will be used for various accessibility upgrades to the plant, which Schubert said will be the country's first deeply carbon-negative renewable diesel fuel plant.
The Riverton Camp Road upgrade looks to improve access for heavy construction traffic to the plant.
The project is also building a 37-car rail spur to give access to the Union Pacific mainline along the site. This will help ship out product by rail to its largest market.
"Anybody can ship things in or out by rail," Schubert said. "For us, it lets us take the product that we produce, which is this renewable diesel fuel, to California (as part of) an agreement with one of the two largest truck stop operators in the country."
Construction of a rail overpass will create a new pattern of traffic for forestry transport vehicles to access the plant site, preventing traffic from requiring left-hand turns to and from Louisiana 165 or across the railway.
"It's about accelerating the schedule for the plant, enhancing the operation of the plant with the rail and then dramatically improving the the safety of the site and the safety of the operation," Schubert said.
Construction for these items is scheduled to begin as early as mid-summer.
In the future, Schubert said they plan to construct more plants like this one. They may build two or three plants in North Louisiana before looking to build more in South Louisiana.
"First, we've got to get the first one built; that's kind of the number one priority," Schubert said. "But we do have plans ourselves for expansion here in northern Louisiana and Louisiana in general."
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This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Port of Columbia, Louisiana Green Fuels Project receives $15M grant