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Empire will take input on proposed biomass gasification plant

Empire Township will hold a public hearing March 3 to take comment on a proposed plant that could start turning trash into fuel as soon as 2012.

Rational Energies is looking for clearance to build a 200,000-square-foot biomass gasification plant on 52 acres at the southwest corner of Highway 52 and County Road 46. The plant would turn products such as switchgrass, corncobs and municipal solid waste into high-quality diesel fuel.

"This is not biodiesel. This would be considered No. 1 diesel fuel under all specifications," said Ed Driscoll chief executive officer of the approximately 18-month-old company.

Some of the technologies the company would use are new. Others are scaled-down versions of technologies.

Driscoll called the Empire site his company's preferred location for the plant, which would be the company's first and the first of its kind. He likes the easy access provided by two major roads. And he said the township government has been easy to work with.

Driscoll said the building, if its built, would resemble a warehouse. He doesn't expect there will be a lot of impact on the area around the plant.

"Odor is really restricted to the building. Noise is restricted to the building. There will certainly be some truck traffic, but you have 30,000 cars a day going down 52 right now."

The plant as proposed would produce about 2,000 barrels of diesel fuel a day, a tiny fraction of what Flint Hills Resources produces just up the road.

"It's a spit in the bucket. It really is," Driscoll said.

The Empire Township Planning Commission will hold a public open house starting at 7:30 p.m. March 3 at the town hall to informally review the company's plans. The planning commission will also hold formal public hearings starting at 8 p.m. to consider whether to amend the township's comprehensive plan to include an industrial land use and whether to amend zoning codes to allow alternative-energy facilities.

The facility will also need to create an environmental impact statement and get other permits.