Stepan Co.completes expansion

By | May 01, 2006
Illinois' largest biodiesel producer is now putting more product into that state's fuel supply. Joliet-based Stepan Co. finished its plant expansion in early March and is now producing 21 MMgy of biodiesel.

The expansion of the once-10 MMgy multi-feedstock facility began in September 2005, said Jeff Nelson, Stepan's biodiesel business manager. Stepan oversaw its own biodiesel expansion.

Although Stepan has been producing biodiesel for six years, the company has actually been producing methyl esters for decades. A global manufacturer of specialty and intermediate chemicals used in consumer products and industrial applications, Stepan is also a leading merchant producer of surfactants, which is the key ingredient in consumer and industrial cleaning compounds. "We were already making the chemistry," Nelson said. "It's not something that we have to invent."

Stepan began producing methyl esters for biodiesel use as a way to make use of excess capacity. "Since then, we've expanded our capacity, building specifically for biodiesel," Nelson said.

Located on the southwest outskirts of Chicago, Joliet offers Stepan the perfect location to reach the large urban markets of the metro area as well as the agricultural areas in the rest of the state.

Stepan continues to have big plans for biodiesel in the near future. Nelson said the company already has completed engineering plans for another expansion. Stepan has also applied for BQ-9000 accreditation, the voluntary fuel quality assurance program governed by the National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission. "It's become important because of the quality issues in the industry," Nelson said. "It's become important for marketing biodiesel."

Nelson predicts that refined glycerin sales will continue to be an issue for the biodiesel industry. The United States has historically been a net importer of glycerin, but that may change this year. "The market is getting to be a big problem," Nelson said.
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