Bank gets $91 million loan guarantee to finance Cool Planet biorefinery in Alexandria

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ALEXANDRIA, Louisiana — The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday it has guaranteed a loan to help build a biofuel refinery in Alexandria.

The $91 million loan guarantee to Silicon Valley Bank will help Colorado-based Cool Planet build its plant, which would convert wood chips into fuel and an agricultural-enhancement product known as biochar.

Cool Planet says that soil product will help farmers retain water and nutrients in soil to increase crop yields, and to maintain crop yields with less water and fertilizer during droughts. It's meant to cut the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing global warming.

The company says it will contribute $50 million toward the plant and has investors including Google Ventures, BP PLC, Conoco Philips Co, General Electric, Exelon Corp. and NRG Energy.

Cool Planet has begun site work on the planned refinery at the Port of Alexandria and hopes to begin operations in 2016. Cool Plant would hire 24 workers, as well as support logging and trucking jobs. The plant would make 8 million to 10 million gallons a year of

"We would like to thank the USDA for its commitment to commercialization of industry-leading projects such as ours," Cool Planet CEO Howard Janzen said in a statement. "''We expect to work closely with the USDA as we bring this commercial facility online. The umbrella of a supportive and consistent federal government policy is important to the initial commercialization of our technology.

The company has committed to three Louisiana plants, trying to reduce risk and reduce transportation costs for wood. The second would be in Natchitoches, while the location of the third hasn't been determined.

USDA said its loan guarantee was financed from assistance authorized in the 2008 farm bill. Congress extended the program in the 2014 farm bill.

"USDA's support for renewable energy projects like this helps create jobs in rural areas, promotes U.S. energy independence, and leads to further expansion of the growing and increasingly significant bioeconomy," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

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