Baardson back in the picture

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

LISBON - The man behind the former Baard Energy project is the CEO of a new company that intends to build a similar but smaller plant in Ashtabula County.

John Baardson is CEO of Pinto Energy LLC, the Houston-based startup company that last week announced plans to build a $200 million refinery on 80 acres near Ashtabula that would convert natural gas to diesel fuel and other liquid products, taking advantage of the natural gas boom underway in the region.

Baardson was the CEO of Baard Energy, which announced in 2006 plans to build a $6 billion plant on 400 acres outside Wellsville that would convert coal to diesel fuel. When the project ran into problems attracting investors, Planck Investments acquired controlling interest in 2011 and announced the project would proceed but with natural gas replacing coal as the feedstock. This plant was to produce 53,000 gallons per day of diesel fuel.

Pinto Energy is proposing to build a much smaller modular refinery that would produce up to 2,800 gallons of fuel and specialty products, such as solvents, lubricants and waxes, from natural gas. The plant, which can be expanded, is expected to generate 30 permanent jobs and 400 construction jobs.

Baardson, in a May interview with the Columbus Business Journal, said it was easier to attract investors to finance a smaller plant of the type being contemplated than one with a $1 billion-plus price tag.

What made this possible is a new processing technology developed by Velocys Inc. that allows for construction of smaller, modular gas-to-liquid conversion plants. Velocys is spinoff company from Battelle, the Columbus-based research and development institution.

The news caught Columbiana County Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake somewhat by surprise. The port authority helped bring the Baard Energy project to Wellsville.

"I know they were working on a plant up there, but I didn't known (Baardson) was involved," Drake said, adding he never heard from him again after Planck assumed controlling interest in the Baard project.

As for the Planck project, renamed Pallas Formed Fuels, Drake said the company still owns or controls the 400 acres just outside Wellsville in Yellow Creek Township, and he is in periodic contact with officials and they are still interested in moving forward.

"They have indicated they plan to move forward in developing that land sometime in the future," he said.