New owners take over ethanol refinery

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

The new owners of the ethanol refinery on Rock Island Road signed the final papers on Wednesday morning.

A Dallas-based partnership, SOZO Energy, LP, and the Tucumcari Greater Economic Development Corp. (TGED) agreed on Aug. 25 for SOZO to purchase the ethanol plant on Rock Island Road.

Joseph Harker, a principal of SOZO Energy, L.P., met with the TGED board after signing the papers earlier on Wednesday to discuss the plant’s future.

“It will be a pilot plant for strategic tests,” Harker said. One of its pilot projects could be expected to be making ethanol from crop waste or cellulosic ethanol.
Cellulosic ethanol is considered to be one of ways to produce the cheapest ethanol because it is made from crop waste, instead of grain. But researchers have yet to find an inexpensive enzyme to break down the waste, Harker said.

Investors in the development of ethanol plants, need to have proof that a plant can produce a specified yield and will not invest in certain manufacturing processes, such cellulosic ethanol, because it doesn’t have a proven track record, Harker said.

“We will be able to prove out some of these tests at the Route 66 plant,” Harker said.

The Route 66 plant needs upgrading and its capacity will be increased from 3 million gallons to 10, which will take until spring, Harker said.

Harker is co-chief executive officer in the refinery with Nancy Shockey, also of the Dallas area, he said. They have other investments including mineral leases and real estate, Harker said.

Pete Kampfer, executive director of the TGED., said the TGED’s board agreed on SOZO because they were found to be a sound company, and they were interested in becoming a part of the community, and in hiring locally and in purchasing products and supplies in Tucumcari and Quay County.

“We did our due diligence,” Kampfer said.
“In the first week, 45 people came up to the refinery and asked for a job,” Harker said.
“Our goal is to hire from this county,” he said.

But some specialized positions will likely be filled from outside the area, he added.
The company’s goal is to buy locally, Harker said.

When the refinery was operational, it took five semi-loads of grain daily to keep up with 24-7 production. That production is now expected to be more than tripled.
In anticipation of that production and the increased demand for fuel and raw materials, Harker said the company was also considering a railroad spur.

And because Route 66 refinery’s byproducts would provide an inexpensive source of feed for livestock, the TGED has been talking to and courting a prospective dairy operation, Kampfer said.

The refining process also depends on water, and the plant’s effluent will be filtered by state-of-the-art processes, Harker said, which could be used for cattle or a dairy operation, based on USDA standards.