UPDATE: At least two entities want to re-start ethanol plant

There’s definitely a ‘will’ to get South Bend’s ethanol plant back up and running, but it remains to be seen if there’s a ‘way.’

Today it was learned that there are parties that are interested in bringing the bankrupt plant back to life, and that they come from near and far.

“We would buy the plant, we're going to improve it, we'll double the number of jobs we'll add new products and processes,” said Robert Salazar of Natural Chem Eco-Fuels, LLC based in Houston, Texas. “It would be a tragedy to see a plant of that caliber scrapped out, your community would lose jobs, it would lose millions and billions of dollars of impact.”

Salazar’s company has already purchased a bankrupt ethanol plant in Heyburn, Idaho. Today Salazar came all the way from Texas to South Bend to attend the latest bankruptcy court hearing on the New Energy plant.

Rudy Yakym, Jr. of Cyberlink Technologies of South Bend also attended the hearing because he had an “acute” interest in purchasing the plant. “To build that plant today is $300 million investment and so if we can get it down here in the single digits, single million dollar digits, it’s a bargain.”

The ethanol plant was offered at auction last month and the high bid was $2.5 million.

The high bidder was a joint venture between two professional liquidation firms that have no interest in operating the plant.

Over the objections of Salazar, the court today approved the sale to the liquidators. “Even though the judge today did rule against our motion for reconsideration our legal team remains highly confident that we will prevail on appeal,” said Salazar. “In our view the auction was tainted by bidder collusion.”

Salazar said he would file an appeal in U.S. District Court in an attempt to void the auction results.

Meantime, Yakym indicated that he has no problem trying to obtain the plant through the liquidation process. “That just means it’s going to be sold to somebody, and the question is, who is going to buy it? Is it the, is the liquidator going to sell to an organization or an operation that, or individuals that are going to operate it, or sell it to somebody who is going to scrap it out?”

Both potential plant operators cited the same reason for failing to participate in the January auction. “We did not have adequate time to prepare for a bid in the auction,” said Yakym. “My first inquiry of the New Energy plant came the very day that they filed Chapter 11, and so preparing the appropriate due diligence and lining up the cash to be a coherent and intelligent bidder in the process, there just wasn’t enough time for us to do that.”

At least one member of the whittled and weary workforce that remains at the idled ethanol plan attended today’s court hearing. “Actually we were hoping to have a, hear that we had an ethanol producing company would purchase us and would move back in a forward direction,” said Michael Groenke. While such statements were made outside the courtroom today, the discussion inside was confined to the transfer of ownership to the liquidators.

“Hopefully, at the end of the day there will be a Natural Chem sign in front of this facility, and you’ll see a lot of construction, new improvements and it will become a shining example of, in America of what you can do with corn to produce renewable fuels,” said Salazar.

Salazar said it would be hard to make a profit under the current business model at the New Energy plant. His plan calls for boosting profits by adding products. “They emit tons and tons of carbon dioxide, we can turn that into diesel fuel. They have an animal feed by product that we can recover, natural chemicals, that’s where our name comes from.”

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