GIS tool available for potential Illinois plants

By Anna Austin | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 3, 2008 at 1:53 p.m. CST

The Illinois Value Added Sustainable Development Center has developed a sophisticated program to prospect locations for new ethanol and biodiesel plants, as well as locate existing facilities and other resources. The project was funded with an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant.

The interactive GIS program is a mapping tool designed to help select the best and appropriate locations for new ethanol and biodiesel plants in Illinois - allowing the user a detailed view of over 182 different "layers" such as rivers, roads, population, railroads, etc. Jeffrey Nemeth, a research associate at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, compares the tool to placing laminates on an overhead projector. "The layers really make it a great tool," Nemeth said. "Let's say you are developing an ethanol plant and you want to know how you are going to transport your product. A layer you could create is all available roads - interstates, highways and secondary roads. Next, you can view a railroad layer over that. You are able to see exactly where that rail goes - and the really nice thing is that you can click on that rail and it will tell you who owns or leases it." The application also allows a user to trace along the road or railroad to determine distances between locations. Structures such as natural gas pipelines can be located, down do the diameter of the pipe and the owner. "The tool caters to whatever criteria a developer is looking for," Nemeth said. "It is rather impressive."

The tool also allows for an aerial view of topographic structures. "You are actually able to see what kind of cars are sitting in the parking lot," Nemeth said, adding that although the tool does not replace doing a complete feasibility study, it can greatly assist communities, organizations and individuals in performing a "snapshot" feasibility study, giving them an accurate determination of whether a proposed plant site is appropriate. "When ethanol was booming a year and a half ago, many permits were being cited without researching if the proposed plant locations were really feasible," he said. "We have developed this tool to be of great assistance in such instances."

A demo of the tool was released in October 2006, the final version was completed last fall. "A lot of people don't know about this tool yet," Nemeth admits. "But it is free, and extremely helpful."

The Illinois GIS Site Selection Tool can be viewed at www.value-added.org.