Another ethanol maker eyes Chester Co.

CHESTER -- A second ethanol manufacturing company is eyeing Chester County for a plant that could bring 60 jobs, county officials said Thursday, which could give the county the first two such facilities in the state.

The plant would produce ethanol from waste wood, such as the debris left behind from logging, and convert it into what's called cellulosic ethanol, a high-octane fuel alternative, said Karlisa Parker, county economic development director.

Ethanol can be made from corn, wood chips, grains and other renewable products.

The company's name hasn't been publicly revealed for competitive reasons, Parker said. The unnamed business is eyeing a 206-acre site on Lancaster Highway in Richburg.

Parker said the county has been negotiating with the company since 2005.

The company is the second ethanol manufacturer in recent weeks that officials have said is interested in building a plant in the county.

The other company, also unnamed, is considering a 330-acre site on Beltline Road for an ethanol plant that would initially make ethanol from corn, although Parker said technology updates could change that.

Both companies are asking for a rezoning because land use rules require a heavier industrial designation for facilities that manufacture alternative fuels, Parker said.

South Carolina has no ethanol plants, although county officials and industry analysts say some projects are being discussed in other parts of the state.

Depending on which plant breaks ground first, Chester County could claim the first ethanol plant in the state.

"I think it would be awesome for Chester County to be on the cutting edge of something that everyone is concerned with," Parker said, referring to alternative fuels.

In the United States, corn-based ethanol dominates the market. In fact, last month a Colorado-based ethanol company announced it had been awarded a construction permit to build the country's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Georgia.

The Southeast also is new to ethanol production, although industry analysts say it's getting a lot of attention.

"The South offers a lot of opportunity, not only for today's traditional corn ethanol industry, but also in the future if you're looking toward cellulosic ethanol," said Matt Hartwig, communications director for the Renewable Fuels Association, the Washington D.C.-based national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry. "Whether it's using wood waste from the paper milling industry ... or other cellulosic materials available for conversion."

Of the country's 127 ethanol production facilities, only one is in the Southeast (Tennessee). However, 81 more are under construction, including sites in Georgia and Mississippi.

If the wood waste plant does come to Chester County, ground would likely be broken in 2008 and the facility would be up and running by 2010, Parker said.

On Thursday night, landowners who live near the site for the wood-based plant met with the company. Also in attendance were some county officials, including County Councilman Joe Branham, whose district could include both plants.

"I think it's another good thing for Chester County," Branham said of the waste wood plant. "We're on the cutting edge."