Boardman biorefinery gets $11 million USDA backing

With financing in place, a Minnesota-based energy company plans to build its first commercial refinery that will transform farm waste into natural gas and liquid fertilizer at the Port of Morrow.

Novus Energy has received an $11 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s biorefinery assistance program. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Lisa Mensah made the announcement Friday in Portland.

“This biorefinery will spur economic development, create new jobs and provide new markets for farm commodities in rural Oregon,” Mensah said.

Novus plans to take 750 tons of food waste every day — things like potato peels, onion skins and dairy manure — and convert it into renewable gas at the facility. By allowing the scraps to ferment in tanks, organic material breaks down and releases methane that can be captured and stored.

Joe Burke, Novus president and CEO, said the company has found a way to make that process 40 percent more efficient and is now ready for commercial-scale production. The USDA loan was critical to making the project a reality, Burke said.

“We just can’t wait to go to the next step,” he said.

Novus has spent several years in Eastern Oregon, conducting small-scale tests using local food waste inside a retrofitted semi-trailer. Burke said he has been working on and off for three years toward a commercial refinery at the Port of Morrow.

The issue ultimately came down to financing. Despite successful tests, Burke said banks wouldn’t lend them money. However, the 2014 Farm Bill expanded the USDA’s biorefinery program to allow the agency to invest in advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals.

Mensah said Novus is one of the first companies to receive a loan under that expansion.

“It’s a very competitive program,” Mensah told the East Oregonian. “We are pleased to see this innovation happening in rural America.”

Novus will break ground on its facility at the port later this summer, Burke said, which will be located near Boardman Foods. The total cost is $25 million, and the plant will provide 5-10 permanent, full-time jobs.

At full operation, Novus will produce 3.8 million cubic feet of renewable gas each day. That’s more than 28 million gallons, which will be pumped directly into the Cascade pipeline on their property. A subsidiary of BP is signed on to buy the fuel.

The plant will also generate 350 gallons of liquid fertilizer daily.

“We’re taking waste and turning it into valuable resources. We’re very excited about that,” Burke said.