To Mayor Bill Pikolycky, Woodbine's old landfill has been a big headache. Closed for decades, the 45-acre property is covered with scruffy vegetation and needs an environmental cleanup that would cost the tiny Cape May County borough millions of dollars.
The site began to look like an opportunity, however, after the mayor heard Andrew Greene's unusual proposal.
Greene sees the landfill as a prime location for Garden State Ethanol, a $200 million biofuel plant that would use more than 100 bioreactor tanks to convert algae into ethanol and biodiesel oil. And Pikolycky sees the venture as a way to generate tax income and jobs and to have the site remediated at no expense to the borough.
Greene, president of Garden State Ethanol of New Brunswick, and former chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Health Network, is seeking funds for the project. He has been "in talks with an institutional investor," he said.
If approved, work on the plant, off Fidler Road, could begin by early next year, said Greene, of East Windsor, N.J.
He said the project was expected to yield scores of construction jobs and about 60 permanent positions at the 24-hour-a-day plant.
Garden State Ethanol plans to work with Rowan University to identify the most productive species of algae and the best environment in which to grow it, Greene said.
"These are the early days" of algae bioreactors, said Jim Lane, editor and publisher of the Miami-based Web publication Biofuels Digest. "About 20 to 30 companies are actively developing pilot programs.
The town of 3,000 has a 9 percent unemployment rate, one of the worst in South Jersey, and is the 86th most economically distressed of 566 state municipalities, the mayor said.
A water-treatment plant operated by the borough and another at the Woodbine Developmental Center would provide the 100 million gallons of treated but nonpotable water that would run through pipes to Garden State Ethanol.
There, the water would be fed into bioreactor tanks up to 20 feet high and 12 feet wide, with light and temperature controlled to grow algae, Greene said. Electricity at the plant would be supplemented by solar units.
Once the algae blooms, a third of the water is removed and sent through a centrifuge to produce an algae cake. That cake contains oil and carbohydrates that are separated. The oil is sent by rail to a nearby refinery and turned into biodiesel fuel. The carbohydrates are processed into ethanol, which is added to gasoline at the refinery, Greene said.
"You can do the whole thing again in 24 hours," Greene said. "Every year, we'll produce 13 million gallons of biodiesel oil and 25 million gallons of ethanol."