Nebraska’s New enzymes plant is hiring, training

Source: Roseann Moring • Omaha World Herald  • Posted: Monday, February 13, 2012

BLAIR, Neb. — The future was the main topic of conversation at a tour Friday of a soon-to-open Blair plant that will make the enzymes necessary for ethanol.

“Biofuels today are much bigger than people know,” said Adam Monroe, the president of the North American arm of Novozymes. “But it has a much bigger potential.”

Novozymes, a Denmark-based company, plans to open its latest enzyme production plant in Blair in the next few months, bringing about 100 jobs and investment in a local training program.

The plant will produce enzymes that improve the efficiency of making corn-based ethanol. It also will be able to make other enzymes, including Novozymes’ Ctec2, which break down second-generation biofuel sources such as cornstalks and switch grass, projected to be a large and lasting source of fuel.

A U.S. Department of Energy senior adviser, Peter Gage, toured the plan Friday.

Gage, who oversees energy efficiency and renewable energy, said major fuel users like the U.S. military and commercial airlines are looking to incorporate biofuels into their fuel use, meaning that these fuels will probably be used on a larger scale soon.

“We’re in a global race for clean energy,” Gage said.

He and company officials spoke about a vision of the U.S. that includes more renewable energy and how this Novozymes plant fits into that view.

Monroe, the company official, said he’s excited about potential for lower gas prices because of the ethanol that the plant’s enzymes will create.

“We have to drive on something different,” he said.

The Department of Energy awarded Novozymes a $28 million federal tax credit for the Blair plant, and the company spent $200 million.

That ethanol tax credit expired at the end of 2011, and Gage said he’d like to see President Barack Obama include a renewal in the budget proposal he plans to release Monday.

Gage said he visited in part to check up on the progress, and he liked what he saw. He also liked the jobs that the plant has brought — 100, mostly going to Nebraskans.

“Let’s keep this going more and more,” he said after the tour. “This is a good thing.”

The company has hired 77 employees and plans to hire the rest shortly.

As part of its hiring plans, the company has helped to establish the Washington County Technology Center, part of Metropolitan Community College.

Money from Novozymes and other Blair plants have helped the school offer an associate’s degree tailored to jobs at those companies, Metro Vice President for Academic Affairs Bill Owen said. Novozymes donated $50,000.

And with Novozymes pay at $16 to $20 per hour with benefits, that will be useful for young adults just out of high school as well as those looking for mid-career retraining, Owen said.

The program, which teaches skills that could apply to a variety of operations in technology jobs, is in its first year with about 16 students, he said.

“It opens a lot of options.”