SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Two oxen were used as props, as well as propulsion, during the groundbreaking of a business that will boost Dakota County's economic climate.

Big Ox Energy, a Denmark, Wis.-based firm, has begun construction on a $30 million plant that will take organic waste from industrial plants and turn it into methane. The appearance of heavy machinery is about two weeks away.

Big Ox officials plan to have the plant operating in roughly 12 months, and 30 people will be employees.

Monday's groundbreaking included two oxen weighing 2,200 pounds each that were trucked in from Maine. Ted and Duke were hitched to a 19th-century-style plow, then turned up a 15-yard swath of dirt in front of a large Big Ox sign on land that most recently was a cornfield.

"Don't be shy," Big Ox Business Development Manager Kevin Bradley said as other people grabbed the plow handles.

"We are on Cloud Nine," Bradley added.

Big Ox's technology includes an anaerobic digestion process that extracts organic waste nutrients to create methane. The clean-burning fuel is then sold into the natural gas pipeline for customer use.

The company takes industrial waste from plants and animals and converts it into natural gas. Food and beverage producers, pharmaceutical plants, other biofuel plants and grain manufacturers are common sources of raw material.

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Big Ox won't have to look far for suppliers. The firm is building on a 27-acre site at 1617 D Ave., in South Sioux City's Roth Industrial Park. That park is the home to a number of ag-related industries that are large industrial waste producers, including Beef Products Inc., Richardson Milling and Natures BioReserve. The Tyson Fresh Meats' beef plant is nearby in Dakota City.

Bradley said the process of locating in South Sioux City began in May 2012, although it wasn't a foregone conclusion.

"It is a great day. We are excited to have Big Ox here," said South Sioux City Mayor Rod Koch.

Officials said the process of turning organic waste into energy is popular in Europe, and the sky is the limit for the fledgling industry in the United States. Big Ox operates plants in Green Bay, Wis., and Riceville, Iowa, and has eyes on others in the upper Midwest.

South Sioux City Economic Development Department Director Kelly Flynn said having a new energy-related company is a benefit.

“This should be a great fit for the industries in the area, and the jobs they create are always a positive for the community as well," Flynn said.

The methane produced will be sold as transportation fuel. The plant will be able to produce the equivalent of 10 million gallons of diesel fuel annually. The increased use of natural gas-fueled cars has given companies such as Big Ox a boost.

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County & Education Reporter

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