DG Fuels hopes to employ 650 people producing up to 175 million gallons of fuel a year at the former Loring base.
An employee for the Loring Development Authority looks out at the empty tarmac at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone on Aug. 2, 2005. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

LIMESTONE, Maine — The group behind an industrial park at the former Loring Air Force Base is expecting its first major business in many years.

Launched after the base’s closure in 1994, the Loring Development Authority manages a 3,800-acre industrial, commercial and aviation center that has struggled to retain large employers in the past decade.

But the tide might be changing thanks to Washington, D.C.-based DG Fuels, which wants to build a $4 billion facility in Limestone. It would be Aroostook County’s second major aerospace business, following the September announcement that VALT Enterprizes will build a $4.5 million rocket research center in Presque Isle. Loring officials hope the project will lead to more sustainable economic development and boost their new marketing campaign.

“Any project of this magnitude is bound to have economic spinoffs that we can only imagine at this point,” Loring Development Authority President and CEO Carl Flora said. “There’s going to be a greater demand for trucking and maintenance services, engineering, housing and restaurants.”

DG Fuels chose Limestone as one of two locations for facilities that will produce 175 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel per year. It plans to build on 1,240 acres of development authority-owned land.

The Loring project would be the same size as another installation the company is building in Louisiana, both with $4.13 billion price tags, DG Fuels CEO Michael Darcy said.  

The company expects to create 2,300 jobs during construction and 650 permanent ones after the facility opens.

DG plans to use local timber waste products to extract carbon dioxide from biomass and derive hydrogen from a process called water electrolysis, creating fuel that will remove 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, company officials said.

After consulting with Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development and Loring Development Authority officials, DG Fuels chose Limestone because of the region’s plentiful timber and access to hydroelectric power locally and from neighboring New Brunswick.

DG Fuels plans to deliver its aviation fuel to major airports in New York City and others along the East Coast.

“The biggest thing is that aviation pilots do not have to change anything about their engines to use this type of jet fuel,” Darcy said. “It’s a zero carbon emission fuel.”

Construction of the facility will cost approximately $4 billion, but DG Fuels is seeking federal funds to offset it, Darcy said. Due to the planned building of the Louisiana facility, Darcy expects construction of the Limestone project to start in summer 2024 and end in 2027.

Flora said that DG Fuels’ facility would be the largest project in terms of acreage and job creation since the Loring Commerce Center’s early years.

In recent years, the Loring Development Authority has struggled to attract large employers. The Maine Military Authority shuttered its equipment repair facility in 2018, resulting in 500 fewer jobs. Hydroblend, a food processing center, left in 2019 and Sitel, a customer service call center, relocated to Caribou in 2015 before closing completely in 2019. Those two companies employed more than 200 people combined.

Currently, Defense Finance Accounting Service is Loring’s largest employer with nearly 600 employees. Altogether, the Loring Commerce Centre employs 750 people at nearly 30 businesses.

Flora is remaining hopeful that DG Fuels’ project will help economic trends go in a more positive direction for Limestone, Caribou and other communities.