New Leaf Biofuel plans to double biodiesel production capacity

By Ron Kotrba | March 08, 2017

San Diego-based biodiesel producer New Leaf Biofuel has received a notice of proposed award from the California Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, which will help fund an expansion project to double production capacity on-site from 6 MMgy to 12 MMgy. The grant, provided under the “Community-Scale and Commercial-Scale Advanced Biofuels Production Facilities” solicitation, is for nearly $3.8 million and will require matched funding from the company for an additional $4.5 million.

“We’re ready to hit the ground running, as we’ve been anxiously awaiting this award,” Jennifer Case, president of New Leaf Biofuel, told Biodiesel Magazine. Case said the grant agreement has to be signed before it becomes official, and the company is working on getting the necessary paperwork together before the April CEC board meeting, during which she expects all parties to sign the agreement so work can begin on the expansion project.

Case said upon signing of the grant agreement, New Leaf Biofuel plans to secure permits from the local authorities and construction could begin as early as mid-summer.

The project seeks to double capacity without expanding the footprint of the plant through conversion of batch to continuous processing using Tennessee-based Lutros LLC technology. Case said to grow production with its current batch system would require additional space the plant doesn’t have.

“Our small footprint is our challenge,” she said. “To go bigger using our technology, we would need bigger processing equipment, a bigger vacuum pump, bigger cooling tower—bigger, bigger, bigger. But we can’t get bigger, so we’re going to move to continuous processing and make everything smaller. Instead of reacting 4,000 to 5,000 gallon batches at a time, we’ll have a continuous flow reactor through which the feedstock will be reacted in a much smaller receptacle. Going to continuous flow processing reduces the size of all our utilities and tanks. And our big batch reactors will no longer be used as reactors, but instead as surge and storage tanks. We’ll probably be oversized for what we’re doing, and getting more flowing in and out of our plant will be our next challenge.”

Case said this is the most massive project New Leaf Biofuel has ever taken on since its inception. “We started in 2006 with hopes of getting to 500,000 gallons a year,” she said. “Then we went to 1 MMgy, and 1.5 MMgy, and then 2 MMgy. After that we expanded to where we are today. Expanding to 12 MMgy is a number that 2006 Jennifer would never have dreamt of. I feel like we’re still the small plant on the block.”

Once the expansion project is complete, anticipated for fall 2018 with commissioning and startup expected by end of year, Case said the company will hire another entire shift of production workers for the newly expanded facility.

“We’re entrepreneurs but also environmentalists,” she said. “In California, that’s a cool thing to do. It’s respected. And we’re happy to make more of this great fuel and hire more people from the community.”

New Leaf produces BQ-9000 biodiesel from used cooking oil collected from San Diego area restaurants. 


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