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 Rural Kentucky

Alltech and Kentucky Team Up to Build First-of-its-Kind Rural Biorefinery

By Rick Farmer

Kentucky has long been known for a handful of things: thoroughbred horses and equestrian sports, quality American-made bourbon and some of the best college basketball in the nation. If Gov. Ernie Fletcher (now former Governor Ernie Fletcher) and the Commonwealth’s leadership have their way, it soon will be known as the biofuels capitol of North America as well.

Leading by example, the state’s general assembly came together in a special session in October 2007 to give preliminary approval to an $8 million incentive package designed to assist a Kentucky-based company under the Commonwealth’s new Incentives for Energy Independence Act in the construction and startup of a $40 million biorefinery.

The new 35-acre facility will be the first of its kind. It will be located in Springfield, in rural Washington County, and could create as many as 93 new jobs. The biorefinery will be operated by Alltech, an 1,800-employee company headquartered in Lexington. Alltech is an international leader in the animal feeds industry.

Like other ethanol facilities, the new Alltech facility will seek to harness the biomass energy from grains such as corn, but it also will use cellulostic materials such as switchgrass, kudzu or corn cobs, a key requirement to qualify for additional federal development incentives.  The facility also will use a solid-state fermentation process to ferment the leftover materials and create a secondary fermentation product that is rich in nutrition and can be used as feedstock. Additionally, the facility could capture steam from the distillers and carbon-dioxide from the fermentation process, both marketable byproducts.

“This is the kind of facility we envisioned when drafting Kentucky’s Incentives for Energy Independence Act,” Fletcher said when announcing the incentives package.

The number one product coming out of the Springfield facility won’t be feedstock, or even ethanol. It will be knowledge.

“By far the number one product created here will be intellectual property,” Billy Frey, Alltech’s North American spokesman, says.

The research and development done in conjunction with the Springfield facility may help to pave the path toward a much larger, much bolder, much more integrated biorefinery that produces milk, beef, feed and feed supplements, ethanol, biodiesel, steam, carbon dioxide and methane. The purpose of the Springfield facility is to look at the commercial feasibility of an environmentally friendly, integrated process that would create marketable products in feed, foods and fuels. The Rural Community Biorefinery Concept is, for now, just a plan on paper, but the Springfield facility is a necessary step to bringing all those ideas together. 

While the proposed biorefinery won’t do all those things just yet, it is a distinct possibility that in the future Kentucky could be dotted with these self-sustaining facilities.

The Rural Community Biorefinery Concept could have major implications for rural communities that have long struggled with the decline of agriculture, Frey says. Now, many of those communities also are struggling with the loss of manufacturing jobs. One self-sustaining biorefinery could breathe new life into these rural communities, employing hundreds of local workers and producing the kind of tax stream the rural communities currently only dream of.

“We could put these rural biorefineries almost anywhere,” Frey says. “This could position Kentucky as the Silicon Valley of agriculture.”

While it’s fashionable to reduce carbon emissions, almost no one has found a way to eliminate those emissions. Frey says this facility could lead the way.

“We want to leave a zero carbon footprint,” he adds.

So why Kentucky? Frey says not only is it home to the company’s headquarters, but that the Commonwealth has shown exceptional interest in the pursuit of alternative fuels.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has stated a goal of energy independence that might seem unattainable today, but could be a reality tomorrow. The Rural Community Biorefinery Concept might just be the key to open that door.

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