Panda Ethanol plant is acquired by French financer

By Ryan C. Christiansen | April 14, 2009
Web exclusive posted April 28, 2009, at 2:04 p.m. CST

With the 100 MMgy White Energy Inc. ethanol plant already in production there, folks in Hereford, Texas, the self-proclaimed "Beef Capital of the World" eagerly await the next steps of the Société Générale Group. The French financial services giant acquired the unfinished 115 MMgy Panda Ethanol Inc. plant in Hereford April 24 for a $25 million credit bid in bankruptcy court.

"We're all hoping that, in a relatively short period of time, someone will purchase the ethanol plant and open it," said Sid Shaw, director of the Deaf Smith County Chamber of Commerce in Hereford. "We have one plant that's up-and-running and doing just fine and we think ethanol has a future. Hopefully, someone will come along here and purchase this plant and that it will ultimately become a viable producer of ethanol. It would be opportunistic for someone to get started in the business or maybe for some existing ethanol producer."

The Panda ethanol plant in Hereford was destined to be a unique operation in the Beef Capital, fueled by cow manure from nearby feedlots and supplying wet distillers grains with solubles to the cattle there. "This would have simply been a good opportunity for the feedlots in regard to the fact that there would have been a source that they could have taken that manure to," Shaw said. "[The ethanol plant] certainly would not have utilized all of the manure production that there is, (but) it might have made a pretty good-sized dent in the manure that we already have to process and dispose of. A lot of that over the years has been disposed of on farmland as fertilizer."

Shaw said there are approximately 1.5 million cattle within a 30-mile radius of Hereford. He said providing a manure-for-fuel disposal opportunity would not provide opportunities to expand feedlots in the area. "We already have all of the cattle in the world," he said, "so to speak."

Shaw said he is not aware of any local efforts to purchase the ethanol plant. Bill Pentak, director of corporate communications and investor relations for Panda, said the timing for closing the sale has yet to be determined. Jim Galvin, the media spokesperson for Société Générale, was unreachable for comment.