Ferndale firm awarded $4.6 million grant to develop new biofuel technology


FERNDALE - It has taken three years of development, but now Karl Seck will get a chance to bring an innovative biofuel technology to the U.S. market.

Earlier this week the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Mercurius Biorefining of Ferndale - Seck is the president and CEO - a $4.6 million grant to develop a pilot-scale biorefinery. The biorefinery would convert biomass, such as wood chips, into fuels that could be used to power vehicles, including meeting military specifications for jet fuel.

Mercurius has partnered with other organizations on this project, including Purdue University, and a decision was made to build the first biorefinery in Indiana.

"I wish I could say we are building a plant in Ferndale, but we found a very good situation in Indiana with Purdue University," said Seck, who added that he plans to keep the company's corporate headquarters in Ferndale and potentially create a few local management jobs.

The Department of Energy noted that this project builds on the federal government's broader efforts to advance biofuels technologies to continue to bring down costs, improve performance and identify effective agriculture sources that aren't food.

"The innovative biorefinery projects ... mark an important step toward producing fuels for our American military and the civil aviation industry from renewable resources found right here in the United States," said Steven Chu, U.S. Department of Energy secretary, in the news release announcing the investment of four projects totaling $18 million.

Seck said the pilot-scale biorefinery should take about a year to develop, and the first potential private-sector customers would be petroleum companies wanting to blend the product into fossil fuels. The military is also a potential customer.

Seck believes the Ferndale area - with an abundant supply of nearby wood and a location near refineries and military bases - potentially would be a great area for a future biorefinery if the pilot project is a success.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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