Officials: Plans still on ‘Go’ for delayed Mississippi jet biofuel plant, should bring up to 1,200 construction jobs starting in 2025.

Published 4:14 pm Sunday, July 30, 2023

Plans to construct of biofuel plant in Southwest Mississippi with up to 1,200 construction jobs have been delayed but are still on “Go.”

While an engineering change has delayed the date to begin construction of the Velocys bio-refinery plant in Natchez, the project is still viable, said Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc., the area’s economic development agency.

Velocys announced plans to construct and operate a plant here using new technology to make jet fuel using woody biomass, which is waste from the paper and lumber industries.

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“The timeline has slipped a little. They switched how they are powering the facility,” Russ said. “They were going a solar power route. Now they are putting in a bio power plant, which is good and bad for us. It consumes more timber product, but it also added some engineering design and things to the project itself, which pushed it back some.”

He said Velocys will begin some of its preliminary site work here soon, “basically on both the power plant piece and the bio-refinery piece, but they can’t get started on that until the levee is complete.”

Natchez Inc., the City of Natchez and Adams County have secured state and federal funding worth $5.4 million to complete a levee around the Velocys site to protect it from Mississippi River flooding.

Russ said two-thirds of the levee work has been completed.

“We are in the fourth phase now of that project. We secured all of those funds through state and federal resources. The county is not out of pocket for any of those dollars, which is great, but it’s also why it’s taken so long to get it done,” he said, pointing out the application process and time it takes to receive state and federal funding.

What is left to do on the levee project is “closing the ring,” he said. He hopes bids will be awarded in September for the final portion of the levee project.

“It is great news that Velocys is going to begin some of the preliminary site work, and that things continue to move forward. Their plan as of now is to begin serious construction of the plant in the first quarter of 2025, and there will be a two to two-and-a-half-year build-out on a project of that magnitude. However, we will have 800 to 1,200 construction workers in there every day for two and a half years,” Russ said. “They were expected to begin construction in the second quarter of 2024, but the engineering change pushed that back.”

Natchez Inc. has a number of good clients it is working with right now in various stages of development, Russ said, “all the way from near announcement to in-the-process, like Velocys. Some are new. We are short-listed on a couple of projects. Including the Velocys project, which is worth $2.5 billion, we are probably working $5 billion in projects right now.”

Bids were opened recently on further clean up efforts at the former International Paper Co. site.

“MDA granted us $250,000 and we have $250,000 from American Rescue Plan Act money from the county that we can use. Unfortunately, bids came in a little high. Our lowest bid was $650,000. We are trying to figure out how to manage those additional funds. I think we can use some other grant dollars to cover that offset,” Russ said.

The IP site clean up will consist of removing all of the remaining above-ground structures and removing concrete on roughly 50 acres.

“We plan on taking the concrete out, piling it up and we have a group that has agreed to crush the concrete and use it as rock material for other applications,” he said.

Activity and interest in Natchez and Adams County for industries using graphite, aluminum and “critical minerals” is “real hot right now. It really has a lot of activity going on there. Component materials and critical minerals is a really good space for us because of resources and logistics and things like that. We are trying to capture and participate in as much of that as we possibly can.”

Workforce development in Natchez is critical right now, Russ said.

“We remain focused on workforce development. If we don’t bring that forward on multiple fronts, it’s something that can slow us down. I think we have a good plan of attach on that right now and hopefully we will stay the course.”