By John Reid Blackwell, Richmond Times-Dispatch
A Hopewell ethanol plant that closed this summer because of the decline in gasoline prices has been acquired and will start production again.
Green Plains Inc. of Omaha, Neb., a commodity-processing and ethanol-producing company, said it acquired the facility from Future Fuels LLP, which had operated the plant as Vireol.
Vireol announced it was suspending production in late August, saying that ethanol prices had dropped substantially along with gasoline prices.
Green Plains said it expects to resume production by the end of the year.
“We have a long operating history in the industry, through the highs and lows,” said Jim Stark, a vice president and spokesman for Green Plains, noting that Green Plains operates 12 other ethanol plants.
The ethanol plant in Hopewell has a start-and-stop history. Located on a 55-acre parcel, it was built in 2010 by Osage Bio Energy, a company that planned to buy barley from Virginia farmers to make ethanol for use in gasoline blends.
Osage Bio Energy closed the plant before it started production, citing “unfavorable market conditions.”
Vireol, a biofuels production company based in Knaresborough, England, later acquired the plant for $13 million. The company originally planned to dismantle the plant and ship production overseas, but it ultimately decided to keep the operation in Hopewell, where it started production in 2014, producing ethanol using corn.
Green Plains paid $18.25 million for the plant, and expects to invest an additional $6 million to $7 million on upgrades and installing equipment and technology.
Stark said Green Plains plans to bring additional revenue-producing operations to the plant, including corn oil extraction by mid-2016.
“We focus on operating excellence, operating efficiencies, and improving the flow of the plant,” he said. “Our efforts will be to make that plant as efficient as it can be and install technologies that can make it run better.”
He said the plant will employ about 45 people. “Obviously, we will look to interview the employees that were there previously,” he said.
The closure of the plant “could have had a very negative impact on our grain producers,” said Todd Haymore, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry. “Green Plains is one of the nation’s leading producers of biofuels, so this is good news for Hopewell, good news for the agricultural community, and good news for diversified energy production.”
Green Plains said that when the plant is operating at full capacity, it will increase the company’s annual production capacity by about 60 million gallons to nearly 1.1 billion.