Sundrop tells plans for plant

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

In the an exclusive interview in Baton Rouge with Barry Shapps, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Sundrop Fuels, the Journal was told: "The first phase of our development north of Alexandria will be a steam methane reforming commercial system that will convert the syngas to methanol and then to premium drop-in the tank gasoline."

"This process is licensed from Exxon Mobil. Site development will start in the first quarter of 2014 and the commercial plant will come on line in the middle of 2016. We have purchased 1,213 acres near Rapides Station, including the facility known as Cowboy Town. We are going to remodel those facilities into our Louisiana offices and the training center adjacent to the manufacturing plant."

"We have an office near the site in a former veterinarian's office building. Our initial staff already on the payroll includes the future plant manager, the future operations manager, the designated HRO, and our biomass procurement manager, Pat Gilbert," Schaps said. He discussed the Sundrop project at a recent Louisiana Loggers Council panel discussion during the LFA convention held in New Orleans.

The time-line of Sundrop Fuels began in 2008 when AMP Capital funded the start-up companies led by Wayne Simmons, a longtime ExxonMobil executive who holds a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Wisconsin. In July of 2011, Chesapeake Energy invested $155 million with Sundrop fuels for a 50% stake in the company. Chesapeake will also supply the natural gas to the plant. In addition, Sundrop received another $20 million in funding from two venture capital firms.

In November of 2011, Louisiana Governor Jindal, along with Sundrop officials, announced that Sundrop Fuels would build a $500 million combination biomass/natural gas plant north of Alexandria near Boyce to produce 200 million gallons annually of premium "drop-in the tank" gasoline. In July 2012, Sundrop announced that they had acquired a licensing agreement with ExxonMobil to use its methanol to gasoline technology at the Alexandria location.

During December of 2012, Sundrop completed the acquisition of a commercial facility located next to the proposed plant site known locally as "Cowboy Town." In February of 2012, Sundrop Fuels completed the purchase of the 1,213 acre site for their plant facilities. July 12, 2013 saw the announcement by Sundrop Fuels that it had selected IHI E&C International Corporation of Houston as the contractor for its inaugural facility north of Alexandria near Boyce.

"Our plans are to begin construction of our Biomass Demonstration plant in the first quarter of 2015 and bring it on line in 2016 at the same time we bring our Methanol to Gasoline plant into production," Schaps explained to the Journal.

"The technology for biomass to gasoline is proprietary to Sundrop Fuels. This demonstration plant will provide Sundrop with the opportunity to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt its gasification process to make green gasoline from biomass."

In their announcement of the selection of IHI E&C as its prime contractor, Sundrop Fuels CEO Wayne Simmons, who is also Chairman of the Advanced Biofuels Association, stated, "With IHI E&C's talent and resources, Sundrop Fuels looks forward to formally breaking ground on the final stepping-stone toward becoming a major producer of affordable, drop-in biofuel. IHI E&C has extensive experience and a long history of successful project execution in plants with similar configurations and process units."

IHI E&C International Corporation is based in Houston but is a wholly owned subsidiary of the giant Tokyo based IHI Corporation. The parent company has 27,000 employees worldwide in 14 different offices and 142 subsidiaries.

IHI E&C is currently performing the front-end engineering design known within the industry as FEED. Following the successful execution of the FEED and finalization of the of the EPC contract exhibits, IHI E&C will execute the detailed engineering, procurement, construction and completion, or EPCC for the commercial plant.

"The commercial and demonstration plant will require over one thousand construction workers and two years to complete," Schaps confirmed. "The commercial and demonstration plants will employee about 150 people. These jobs will have a starting salary of $60,000."

In the commercial plant, natural gas is first reformed into synthesis gas, or syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The syngas is then converted in methanol which is then converted in 87 octane ((R+M)/2) gasoline. The biomass to gasoline demonstration plant that is planned to be on line in 2016 will use about 20 truckloads of chips each day. The biomass plant will operate seven days a week.

"We plan to use Louisiana products, natural gas and biomass to make gasoline to sell to Louisiana residents," Schaps, who spent 27 years with the Royal Dutch Shell company, related. "We are pleased to be in Louisiana. Sundrop Fuels has developed a great relationship with the Louisiana Economic Development Department, the Louisiana Work Force Commission and the Governor's office."

Sundrop Fuels currently employs 40 people in its Longmont, Colorado office plus the four people in the Central Louisiana office. The company's business model is designed to develop multiple mega-green gasoline production facilities based on its success at its Central Louisiana production facility.