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Friday, April 12, 2019 1:00 am

Ashley getting plastic-to-fuel plant

To be 1st of its kind in nation; 136 jobs coming

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

A San Francisco-based recycling company plans to invest $260 million to construct and equip a northeast Indiana plant to convert plastic into fuel, the first operation of its kind nationwide, officials announced Thursday.

Brightmark Energy expects to create 136 full-time manufacturing jobs at the new Ashley facility, 3240 W. Steuben County Road 800 South. Job duties will include basic plant operations, highly skilled technicians, engineers and management. Wage information was not provided.

Groundbreaking at the Steuben County site is planned for late May. Operations are expected to begin in mid- to late 2021.

Raw materials for the 112,000-square-foot plant will come from curbside recycling pickup in Indiana and Illinois and from manufacturing waste. Otherwise, those plastics could end up in a landfill or the ocean, the company said.

The World Economic Forum in 2016 released a report that forecast discarded plastics found in oceans will outweigh the fish swimming in them by 2050.

Brightmark Energy CEO Bob Powell, who has worked in the energy sector for almost 30 years, said patented technology created by RES Polyflow presents an exciting opportunity for Brightmark Energy, which recently acquired RES Polyflow.

“We think we can be a major answer to a very big environmental problem,” he said in a phone interview.

Jamie Nolan, Brightmark Energy spokeswoman, said even the thin plastic film that covers Styrofoam trays of ground beef – and the trays themselves – can be converted into fuel and industrial wax.

“This plant can take mixed plastics – anything from bottles to Barbie heads,” she said.

Brightmark Energy is a 21/2-year-old, privately owned company that invests in proven technology with environmental benefits, Powell said, adding that he has a considerable personal investment in the business.

Initial estimates call for the plant to convert 100,000 tons of plastic the first year into more than 18 million gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel and naphtha blend stocks and almost 6 million gallons of commercial-grade wax, officials said.

The process is expected to be 93% efficient, leaving 7% waste that is inert and non-toxic, Powell said.

That material could then be sent to a landfill or eventually become raw material for producing more plastic, he said.

Powell said the wax can be used in various applications, including candle production and coating for cardboard boxes.

BP, a British oil and gas company, has agreed to buy the fuels and will distribute them throughout the region. AM Wax, an international trading company that specializes in paraffin waxes, has signed on to buy the commercial-grade wax that will be produced.

Brightmark Energy officials cited support from city, county and state officials for helping the Ashley site right to the top of their list. Economic development officials have offered the company assistance with worker training, for example. Ashley's population was slightly less than 1,000 in the 2010 census.

The project's financing package includes $185 million in Indiana green bonds, which are earmarked for loans for environmentally beneficial projects.

“The location also offers,” Nolan said, “excellent proximity to major highways and rail access, and to our customers.”

sslater@jg.net