SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Several large companies that process meat and grain have established themselves in Dakota County over the years.
Soon, a renewable energy company will capitalize on those industries to produce methane.
Big Ox Energy, a Denmark, Wisconsin-based firm, broke ground in May on a $30 million-$40 million plant that will take organic waste from industrial plants and turn it into methane. Construction is expected to be completed by late spring. It's expected to create 25-30 jobs.
"It's coming along great. It's a big, massive place," said Kelly Flynn, South Sioux City economic development director.
The practice of turning organic waste into energy is popular in Europe, and interest is growing in the United States. Blue Ox operates plants in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Riceville, Iowa.
The process of locating in South Sioux City began in May 2012. Company officials have said the northeast Nebraska city is an attractive location not only because of the large number of potential suppliers and infrastructure already in place, but also because of the proximity of an interstate natural gas pipeline and the willingness of South Sioux City leaders to work with the company.
"They've been really accommodating and helpful through the process. I can't speak enough of those folks," Matt Cole, of Blue Ox, said in an interview last year.
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.
Big Ox won't have to look far for suppliers. The company is building on a 27-acre site in South Sioux City's Roth Industrial Park, which is 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 next door in Dakota City.
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 helps create fuel, and it also will help industries reduce their waste disposal costs. Rather than send waste to the landfill or pay surcharges to have waste treated and disposed of, those industries will pay a fee to Big Ox to dispose of it for them once it's been used to create fuel.
Flynn said Blue Ox will not only help existing industries, it could attract new ones to fill the remaining 600 acres in the Roth Industrial Park. Blue Ox construction has already led to some interest.
"It's great to see it taking shape," Flynn said. "By them being in place out there, it's going to help with future projects."