Pennsylvania plant exports via Great Lakes

By Kris Bevill | March 17, 2008
On Dec. 20, Lake Erie Biofuels LLC, a 45 MMgy biodiesel plant in Erie, Pa., shipped what it considered the first-ever load of biodiesel via the Great Lakes. The 1.5 million gallons of renewable fuel were sent through the Welland Canal on the St. Lawrence Seaway two days before shipping lanes closed for the winter. The Clipper Tobago carried it across the Atlantic Ocean to Rotterdam, Netherlands, arriving two weeks after leaving Erie.

Plant Manager Mike Nobel said the company's biodiesel is transported via rail to the East Coast after the shipping lanes close for the winter. Canal lock closures generally last approximately three months, and Nobel expects them to reopen by early April. The company plans to use the Great Lakes shipping system as much as possible. Ships traveling on the Welland Canal are loaded less than a mile from Lake Erie Biofuels, so a significant cost savings is expected for the company. Vessel size poses the only limitation when using that shipping method; ships are restricted to a maximum capacity of 1.5 million gallons on the Welland Canal.

Nobel said most of the plant's current volume is sold in Europe. "Our preference is to sell domestically, but right now the European market is much more developed than the biodiesel market in the United States," he said. "In order to keep our plant running at high volume, we need to export shipments." Lake Erie Biofuels sells its fuel to brokers, so the end-users are unknown.
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