Gold Star Biofuels, USFuelTech to produce biodiesel in Chile

By Bryan Sims | February 10, 2009
Gold Star Biofuels, a Goldstar Farms Ltd. company based in Ghana, has formed a joint venture with Aiken, S.C.-based USFuelTech LLC, a provider of turnkey modular biodiesel production facilities, to design and build small biodiesel plants in Chile that will use locally cultivated jatropha as a feedstock.

Gold Star Biofuels aims to install up to eight biodiesel production units, each producing approximately 8 MMgy using USFuelTech's proprietary process technology. The first production unit, to be built near Puerto Montt, will supply B20 to a 43-megawatt power facility owned and operated by Energy Partners Chile in Degan on the island of Chiloe, according to Executive Director Jack Holden.

"We will have about 5 [million] to 6 million [jatropha] acres in Chile by the time we get done, mostly in the northern part of the country," he said. To start, the company has secured agreements with Chilean farmers to cultivate jatropha on 2.5 million acres. The delivery of biodiesel to Energy Partners Chile for electricity generation is expected to occur within two years. "It's going to take about five to seven years to get to the point where we are completely independent," Holden said.

USFuelTech's biodiesel processing units are capable of converting virgin oils and waste vegetable oils into biodiesel. However, the speed at which they operate depends on the type of feedstock that's used, according to Robert Horning, president and chief executive officer of USFuelTech. The units have total output volumes ranging from 5 MMgy to 20 MMgy. "We can build and transport a 5 MMgy processing unit in a 40-foot container, excluding storage tanks," he said. "All the units have skids, so you could load it on the back of a container truck. They're all self-contained, meaning there's nothing else you need except electricity."
Specifically for Gold Star Biofuels,

USFuelTech will be shipping some biodiesel facilities preassembled, while some will be delivered in pieces that Gold Star Biofuels can assemble in Chile, according to Holden.

In addition to its line of modular bio-diesel production refineries, USFuelTech offers biomass-to-energy production "pods" that can gasify crushed jatropha cake left over from the biodiesel production process. The gas can then be converted into electricity or heat for rural Chilean villages, according to Horning. The biomass-to-energy units can gasify other agricultural residues, as well as municipal solid waste. "Essentially, we could use all the waste found in a rudimentary sewage system as an input stream for the biomass gasifiers and give it back to the villages in the form of either methane gas so they can use it to cook instead of using charcoal, or in the form of fuel to run a generator so they can for the first time have electricity for lights," Holden said.

According to Horning, USFuelTech offers a variety of biomass-to-energy production facilities that can operate at 250 gallons per hour, 500 gallons per hour, 2,000 gallons per hour or 10,000 gallons per hour. Gold Star Biofuels will be installing 500-gallon-per-hour units in Chile, he said. The facilities come standard with a computerized "in-line process testing" station. According to Horning, this feature allows an operator to track data such as what feedstock is being used, water content levels, free fatty acid levels and other factors in real time during production. Not only can the data be monitored by the operator of the unit itself, but an overseer can observe the data from a remote location. This feature offers optimum interactivity between operators in different parts of the world and improves quality control procedures, he said. "You could actually run the plants from a central control panel from anywhere in the world," he said. "The other idea is to have video capability with Skype or something like that."

In 2005, Goldstar Farms began cultivating jatropha in Ghana, where it has commitments from farmers to grow the crop on approximately 5 million acres. The company plans to begin producing biodiesel at its facility in Nkawkaw, Ghana, in 2009, according to Holden.

In addition to Chile, Gold Star Biofuels intends to begin cultivating jatropha in Columbia in mid-2009, and is evaluating the potential for growing jatropha in Mexico, the Republic of Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Holden said the company also identified a site south of Chicago for producing biodiesel from waste vegetable oil.

Holden said landowners agree to 50-year commitments to provide Gold Star Biofuels with jatropha. The company shares profits with landowners, provides medical insurance to all of its workers and their families, and supports local clinics and schools in the areas they operate. Instead of hiring migrant workers, it employs people year-round. Holden said it's part of Gold Star Biofuels' commitment to "being socially responsible."
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