Plans to create the country’s first garbage-to-ethanol plant in Inver Grove Heights are progressing. Yet hurdles remain for Enerkem, the Canadian company that wants to build the multimillion-dollar facility.

“[I] hope it happens,” said Joe Lynch, Inver Grove Heights’ city administrator. “It could put us on the map.”

A victory for the Montreal-based company came in late June when the Metropolitan Council approved plans for a new wastewater reuse facility in Rosemount, only the second such plant in the Twin Cities.

Turning waste into fuel is a water-intensive process. The proposed Southeast Metro Water Reclamation Facility would treat wastewater — water already used by humans or industry — and provide the reclaimed water to the Enerkem facility. That means the biofuel plant wouldn’t need to draw its daily requirement of 1.6 million gallons or so from area aquifers.

“Getting their support was a key element for us,” said Pierre Boisseau, Enerkem’s senior communications director.

Boisseau said the facility’s plans are in the engineering phase. Enerkem is wading through the permit process, seeking several environmental permits to build the estimated $200 million facility, including from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, he said.

The city will also have to grant at least three permits for plans to proceed, and officials there still have questions, Lynch said. “Does it actually do what they say it does on this scale?” he said. “And then, what kind of unintended consequences are there?”

Enerkem first presented plans for a waste-to-biofuel operation at a City Council meeting last winter. The company operates a similar plant in Edmonton, Alberta, but it is half the size of the one proposed for the 10-acre Inver Grove Heights plot a mile west of Hwy. 52, near two landfills.

Boisseau said the technology is proven to work. The Enerkem Alberta Biofuels facility in Edmonton is “ramping up production” and will produce 11 million gallons of ethanol by the end of 2018, he said.

Lynch said city officials so far have dealt mostly with SKB Environmental, not Enerkem. SKB, a Minnesota waste management company, owns the proposed plant site and is partnering with Enerkem.

The City Council would have to study the facility’s impacts — noise, odor, lights and traffic — before giving it the green light, Lynch said.

But council members view the property tax benefits and the jobs it would generate as favorable, he said. And the plant would help solve the problem of what to do with the 200,000 tons of garbage that Dakota County generates annually.

Plant construction wouldn’t start until 2019 or 2020, with operations coming 18 to 24 months later, Boisseau said.

Conversion to fuel starts with workers pulling bulky materials out of the waste; then machines pull out recyclables, organics and items such as rocks. What is left is shredded and broken down into a gas until a chemical reaction turns it into cellulosic ethanol, according to the company.

The plant could process an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 tons of garbage daily, using more than a million gallons of water to do it. Water-supply issues in the area could make obtaining that much groundwater challenging, said Deborah Manning, the Met Council’s assistant manager of plant engineering.

That’s why building the $28 million wastewater reuse facility in Rosemount makes sense, she said. The idea of reusing wastewater in the southeast metro has come up before, she said, but the Met Council wouldn’t have considered the project if not for Enerkem.

Enerkem would pay the Met Council for engineering and design along with construction and operation costs. The Met Council may chip in construction funds if it decides the facility would benefit the region, Manning said.

Rosemount City Administrator Logan Martin said city officials think reusing wastewater is smart, and they see ways to use reclaimed water.