The first shovels of dirt were turned Monday in Colwich on what's being described as the most efficient, technologically advanced corn ethanol plant in the world.
Element LLC, a collaboration between ICM Holdings and The Andersons, Inc., is building a $175 million plant north of its headquarters in Colwich.
"It's going to be absolutely awesome," Colwich mayor Terry Spexarth declared as he stood in front of a dozen shovels.
The plant will produce ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and "co-products" such as animal feed and corn oil, according to a company statement. It is projected to open next spring.
About 60 employees will work directly for Element, said Adriana Albornoz, a spokeswoman for the company. Another 140 or so will be indirect employees such as construction workers or farmers contracted to grow corn for the plant.
The new plant will be built on top of the now-closed Abengoa ethanol plant, which ICM bought in 2016. Company officials expect to need 300,000 man-hours to build the plant, which is projected to purchase more than 22 million bushels of locally grown grain each year.
"The additional demand in grain is expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for local corn producers," according to an Element statement released Monday.
The new plant is projected to produce 70 million gallons of ethanol each year.
When ICM built its first plant in Russell in 2001, it served as a blueprint for dozens of plants that followed over the next 15 years, company CEO Dave VanderGriend said. ICM officials expect the new Colwich plant to set the standard for the next 15 years, he said.
Sedgwick County Engineer David Spears said 53rd Street North will be reinforced with thicker asphalt so the two-lane highway can better withstand the increase in heavy truck traffic that will come with the new plant.
In addition, 61st Street North will be paved with concrete east from Colwich into the plant property to handle additional traffic volume.