The Northland's Choice

FUMPA Biofuels helped open the door for biodiesel production in Minnesota. Operating since late 2004, this small, innovative producer is capitalizing on its coproducts and utilizing a unique marketing strategy to gear up for the state's widespread acceptance of B2 blends
By Dave Nilles | August 01, 2005
Nestled in a secluded region of the fertile Minnesota River valley, the tan concrete building a few miles northwest of Redwood Falls, Minn., doesn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary. Primarily a rendering facility, it takes a closer look to distinguish the telltale signs of the booming biodiesel producer housed within. A methanol storage tank, a tanker fueling station and, most notably, a large round logo featuring a Siberian husky are the only items tipping off the casual observer to the enterprise housed within.

What that facility does hold, in fact, is Minnesota's first commercial-scale biodiesel plant. FUMPA Biofuels, the biodiesel division of the Farmers' Union Marketing and Processing Association, has been quietly churning out the renewable fuel since late 2004.

The facility also represents something much bigger. It's helping to build the supply of biodiesel needed to trigger the state's biodiesel mandate-a ruling requiring the use of B2 in nearly all the state's diesel fuel, effective as early as this fall.

Since FUMPA Biofuels went on line, the construction of two larger plants Minnesota commenced. Both now approaching completion, these larger facilities will have a combined capacity that is greater than the estimated 2004 production output of the entire U.S. biodiesel industry. And by becoming the state's first plant to come on line, FUMPA Biofuels' husky logo-BioPup-has been synonymous with biodiesel production in Minnesota.

A Minnesota first
Chuck Neece joined FUMPA in 2001, intent on evaluating potential new business ventures for the association. He brought with him extensive experience in the pet food industry, in addition to a background in chemistry and physics-ideal experience for his current role as the biofuels division director of research and development.

Biodiesel was one of several business ventures Neece considered. It made sense. After all, Minnesota was considering mandating the use of biodiesel, the nationwide industry was beginning to take off and, most importantly, FUMPA Biofuels already had ready access to a steady supply of feedstock. Central Bi Products, another one of FUMPA's five divisions, already operated a large rendering facility located just northwest of Redwood Falls.

"There was lots of excitement in a young industry," Neece said, referring to biodiesel. "We weren't sure where to go." He was eventually led to Europe to study production techniques and the various technologies employed in the more mature European biodiesel industry. One year later, FUMPA put out a request for proposals to design and build a plant. Lurgi PSI was selected as a design/build firm, mainly based upon initial capital and ongoing production costs. "They also had the ability to meet the DIN standard," Neece said, referring to the European biodiesel standard that is typically considered more stringent than ASTM D 6751.

Lurgi quickly went to work constructing the skid-mounted continuous flow facility at its Memphis, Tenn., production facility. Six months later, the unit and a separate methanol recovery tower were shipped via semi-trailers to Redwood Falls, where on-site assembly took just a matter of days.

In order to accommodate the unit, FUMPA essentially cut a hole in an existing wall in Central Bi Products' pre-existing rendering facility. The unit was then lifted off the truck and slid inside the building for final assembly. Lurgi's Martin Kleber said the 2.8 mmgy unit, a model that FUMPA was the first to purchase, is designed to be compatible with pre-existing facilities.

FUMPA Biofuels started up in early December 2004 as the first commercial-scale biodiesel facility to begin producing in a state known for its biofuels leadership. Neece said the facility ramped up to 30 percent capacity quickly. Although the plant still hasn't been pushed to 100 percent capacity, Neece said he expects it can produce more than its 2.8 mmgy nameplate guarantee.

The Lurgi unit operates with two reactors and two separators, bypassing the need for a centrifuge, Kleber said. Neece said the first reactor produces a 90 percent methyl ester/10 percent glycerin blend. After moving through the second reaction tank and a second separation, "The final product is a high quality, water-free methyl ester," Neece said. The process also utilizes an acid wash to remove impurities from the methyl esters.

FUMPA Biofuels produces biodiesel from several feedstocks, including rendering materials-mainly poultry fat-provided by Central Bi Products. A pretreatment unit was built at the site to prepare rendering feedstocks for biodiesel production. The plant initially started up using SoyPure, a trademarked pretreated virgin soy oil produced by South Dakota Soybean Processors. SoyPure is still used in varying quantities, depending on the market prices for soy oil and poultry fats.

Currently the plant produces approximately 7,500 gallons of fuel per day, slightly more than the capacity of a typical tanker truck. Neece emphasized that FUMPA Biofuels tests its biodiesel daily and inputs the information into a computer program to keep track of quality.
Despite its rigorous testing program, FUMPA Biofuels initially found it difficult to get its biodiesel into the market. Despite strong demand, especially in the Denver area due to the Clean Air Act, petroleum companies just weren't willing to readily accept the product. As the industry progresses, Neece hopes to move beyond that. "It's like a new batch of kids in high school," Neece said. "Eventually everyone begins to grow up and get along. Right now we're the freshmen."

Creating a new glycerin market
The glycerin produced at the plant is approximately 85 percent pure, pH neutral, and free of soaps and methanol, according to Kleber. Those properties provide FUMPA with a unique product opportunity. Capitalizing on the synergy between its biodiesel and animal feed divisions, the association has developed an innovative, patented product making use of the plant's glycerin.

FUMPA has developed an animal feed consisting of a blend of Central Bi Products' hydrolyzed feather meal and the biodiesel plant's glycerin. Gro Mor Hi-Torque, as the product is branded, was developed in part through the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute's (AURI) coproduct utilization lab in Waseca, Minn., where AURI developed a method for making pellets from the mixture.

AURI's Alan Doering, a technical services specialist, developed the product by testing various blends of glycerin and feather meal. Eventually a blend was found that created a high density feed with pellet durability greater than 95 percent, making it ideal for high volume transportation. Perhaps as important was the product's extended shelf life. Doering said AURI recently disposed of several unopened bags of year-old product. "It looked like the day we pelleted it," he said.

While Gro Mor Hi-Torque provides a new product avenue for FUMPA, it also creates a floor value for the biodiesel plant's glycerin. FUMPA can produce Gro Mor Hi-Torque or sell crude glycerin on the open market depending on market conditions. The plant produces approximately 2.2 million pounds of glycerin annually.

Gearing up for the mandate and the future
State officials are suggesting the groundbreaking Minnesota B2 mandate will take effect this fall. For FUMPA, it will just be a natural progression of what is already occurring in the marketplace. "We've been selling into the infrastructure since Jan. 1," Neece said. He added that the biodiesel fuel infrastructure has been growing steadily with several injection blending terminals coming on line throughout the state.
Neece hopes FUMPA can add to that infrastructure by becoming its own biodiesel blender. Permitting has been completed, and Neece is awaiting final word from the Internal Revenue Service. He hopes to begin moving forward with plans this fall.

For its own part, the state's B2 mandate is expected to create demand for 16 mmgy to 19 mmgy of biodiesel. Neece said even without the mandate, there is considerable demand on the market. He expects demand will remain strong even with Minnesota's two new plants bringing on line an additional 55 mmgy.

Neece attributed the mandate to kickstarting the industry in Minnesota. "It feels like the whole government realizes renewable fuels will provide much better options for energy independence," He said.

FUMPA is doing its own part to make consumers realize the importance of biodiesel through its unique marketing strategy. The plant's fuel is marketed under the name Northland Choice Biodiesel. BioPup, that Siberian husky moniker, is helping FUMPA build the brand and is featured on Northland Choice's general information Web site www.biopup.com. "We look at the husky as representative of the attributes we see in our product," Neece said. "It's loyal and protective. And the husky loves cold weather."

More information about FUMPA Biofuels can be found at www.northlandchoicebiodiesel.com.

Dave Nilles is associate editor of Biodiesel Magazine. Reach him by e-mail at dnilles@bbibiofuels.com or by phone at (701) 746-8385.
 
 
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