A Renewed Startup

How renewable diesel is finding its way into the global marketplace
By Bryan Sims | December 20, 2010
Although production volumes of biodiesel may be lagging in the U.S., both domestic and international production of renewable diesel may help fill some of the void.

Finland-based Neste Oil Corp. successfully started up its 800,000 ton-per-year (240 MMgy) NExBTL renewable diesel production facility in the Tuas industrial zone in Singapore, crowning it the largest of its kind in the world. Integrated into the area's existing industrial infrastructure, the plant will utilize the company's proprietary NExBTL technology to process palm oil and animal fat feedstock. Primary markets for the company's renewable diesel, according to Matti Lievonen, president and CEO of Neste Oil, are Europe and North America.

"Our main market areas are the most challenging areas, which put special requirements for product quality," Lievonen says. "NExBTL renewable diesel is an excellent choice in cold areas because it has excellent cold flow properties compared to traditional biodiesel."

The company operates two renewable diesel plants in Porvoo, Finland, with a combined annual capacity of 380,000 tons per year. Neste Oil has a similar-sized facility under construction in Rotterdam, Netherlands, which is expected to be commissioned in the first half of 2011.

On the domestic front, Dynamic Fuels LLC, a 50/50 joint venture between Syntroleum Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc., started up its 75 MMgy renewable diesel production facility in Geismar, La. The plant, which broke ground in 2008, uses Syntroleum's proprietary Bio-Synfining Technology to produce renewable diesel from nonfood-grade animal fats produced or procured by Tyson Foods, such as beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat and greases.

Since its start-up in October, the plant has produced renewable diesel with a cloud point as low as minus 26 degrees Fahrenheit with a cetane value as high as 88, more than twice that of the ASTM petroleum diesel specifications. Although the Geismar plant is producing at half its maximum nameplate production capacity, according to Ron Stinebaugh, senior vice president of finance for Syntroleum, the facility will gradually increase production levels to meet customer demand.

"It doesn't do us any good to not run it," Stinebaugh says, adding that Dynamic Fuels has secured off-take arrangements for its renewable diesel, but declined to name the customer.

In addition to renewable diesel, according to Stinebaugh, the plant is capable of producing high-value specialty distillate chemicals that can be used in a wide variety of applications such as base oils, solvents and ink toner. Having this capability, according to Stinebaugh, allows the company to be profitable without relying solely on a tax credit.

"We think we have a business model that is a good one in spite of the environment we're in," Stinebaugh says. "We also think we have the ability to push into higher-margin markets where we won't necessarily have to depend on subsidies."
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