Biodiesel plant remains closed after explosion

By Sarah Smith | January 17, 2008
Web exclusive posted Jan. 21, 2008, at 11:20 a.m. CST

Three weeks after an Ohio biodiesel plant exploded, injuring four, the American Ag Fuels plant is still undergoing repairs.

The Jan. 3 explosion rocked the plant's Quonset-style loading and unloading facility, and damaged a non-load bearing wall of the adjacent processing building, said Defiance, Ohio, acting Fire Chief Pete Schlosser.

Schlosser said a vapor buildup occurred from unknown sources, and the flammable gases were triggered when plant employees hit the switch to open an overhead garage door. Three plant employees were transported to a nearby hospital, along with a police officer who responded and was overcome by gas fumes.

"We're looking to measure it in weeks, not months, in terms of repair," said American Ag Fuels CEO Steve Lankenau.

Defiance fire and police evacuated a two-block area surrounding the soybean processing plant. Schlosser said the fire department has concluded its investigation, but insurance investigators remain on the scene while repairs are underway. "There was no explosion-proof equipment in that building, but it wasn't required," Schlosser said.

Two of the workers and the officer were treated and released. One worker was hospitalized for burns but was released after three days, Schlosser said. Another worker was hospitalized for cuts and pressure wounds from the impact of the blast. Lankenau said those two men continue to recover.

American Ag Fuels processes 1.5 MMgy of multi-feedstock biodiesel and has been in operation since June 2005. A newer facility, with different processing technology, was slated to open this winter, bringing total plant capacity to 7 MMgy. Lankenau said that opening has been delayed pending the investigation even though that unit wasn't damaged. "We were days or weeks from coming on line," he said of the new facility.

Schlosser said the plant will resume operations once repairs are completed and building inspectors have certified the facility for occupancy.

Lankenau said the loading facility was totally destroyed, but no damage estimates are available to date. "We fully intend to return to general operations as soon as we can," he said.
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