Biodiesel company eyes Miami River for plant, first phase could get under way by summer 2009
By Risa Polansky
As talk of alternative energy sources has taken center stage both locally and nationally, with Congress having expanded expanding off-shore drilling to free the US from dependence on foreign oil, a biodiesel company is eyeing the Miami River for a new production plant.
The first phase of the project, expected to be operating by the end of next summer, could yield 15 million gallons of production a year, said Steven Karpel, chief operating officer of Biomix Energy Corp.
The completed facility, an estimated $40 million to $50 million investment, is expected to produce 30 million gallons annually beginning in 2011, he said.
The company is in the process of securing a three-acre site on the river and an official OK from Miami-Dade County's Department of Environmental Resources Management, as well as planning and zoning officials.
A zoning change may be needed for the industrial property at 3300 NW North River Drive, Biomix officials told Miami River Commission members last month.
The commission, which serves as the official clearinghouse for public policy and projects related to the river, was short of a quorum and did not vote on the project.
Its Urban Infill Working Group gave it a favorable recommendation in August but plans to return to the issue if the zoning change — from one degree of industrial to another — is needed, meeting minutes say.
"Everything seems to be falling in place," Mr. Karpel said.
The project could come in the form of open-air equipment or a less than 15,000-square-foot warehouse, he said. It "would be the first, or at least the largest, [facility of its kind] in Southeast Florida."
The riverfront location is to provide ease in bringing in raw material, as well as potentially transporting the finished product, he said.
The river commission meeting minutes show that the facility's proposed waterfront location on the Miami River would "significantly reduce transportation costs of materials and biodiesel."
Without water access, every 10 million gallons of biodiesel fuel produced would require 2,400 truck trips.
On the other hand, it would take only 25 barge or ship trips from a Miami River facility, the minutes say.
Once complete, the plant could provide directly about 60 jobs, as well as ancillary employment for transport, Mr. Karpel said.
"It can have a larger impact than just what we produce."
Biodiesel works like diesel fuel but is made from raw materials organic in nature, such as plant oils.
"It's a cleaner-burning fuel," he said, and emits 78-80% less greenhouse gas than diesel.
Off-shore drilling — one means of becoming independent of foreign oil — has created a political buzz recently, both on the national and local stages.
Biodiesel is seen as an alternative fuel that could help push the US toward energy independence without increasing drilling.
County commissioners at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting last month debated the drilling issue, some concerned that drilling off the Florida shore would threaten the tourism industry.
The more we drill, the less we'll consider alternative fuels, Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz said.
Biodiesel can be used by shipping vessels, public transportation vehicles, companies with vehicle fleets and a variety of other clients.
"We have several interested parties that want to buy," Mr. Karpel said.
The plant would create a minor amount of non-toxic wastewater, but it would be contained in on-site storage.