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Dixon company still in talks to bring biomass recycling plant to Rock Falls

County economic development office helping with agribusiness project

MORRISON – A Dixon-based company continues to work toward bringing a biomass recycling project to Rock Falls that could create jobs and cut sludge-hauling costs for participating cities.

Green Vision International has been working with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois on the groundbreaking technology that would produce synthetic oil and algae from human and animal sewage.

Algae is produced at the back-end of the process. Different strains have a variety of business uses, particularly in the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetics industries.

Green Vision's facility must be near a wastewater treatment plant, and Rock Falls has plenty of space at its site. The company would like to keep the business in Illinois because of its relationship with the University of Illinois.

Don McFarland, vice president and chief operating officer at Dixon-based Green Vision, presented his plans to the Rock Falls City Council in January.

Financing is the biggest hurdle Green Vision faces – McFarland said between $10 million and $13 million would be needed to get the facility up and running. If all goes according to plan, the money would come from grants and private investors. Rock Falls has not been asked to contribute to startup costs.

The Whiteside County Economic Development office is working with the company on funding.

"We're looking for federal grant money, but they'll need some private equity too – some investors would have some skin in the game," said the office's director, Gary Camarano.

In addition to financing, the company is trying to determine whether the project is feasible in this area. That depends on how many cities can be brought into the process.

"They need 200,000 tons of biomass a year, and they are looking at towns in about a 50-mile radius," Camarano said. "They need to be able to transport the material within a reasonable distance."

The savings from not having to get rid of its sludge could be significant for neighboring cities. McFarland said the cities involved could save more than $3 million a year on waste costs. Mayor Bill Wescott estimates that Rock Falls could save between $50,000 and $60,000 a year.

McFarland said this renewable energy technology flips the economic tables for municipal waste. He said wastewater costs are typically 10 times greater than the value of the energy in the waste being processed.

When fully operational, plans call for the facility to employ about 108 workers who would have a median salary of more than $40,000.

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