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Small biodiesel producer gets resourceful in tough times

Through a state grant, community-scale biodiesel producer Midlands Biofuels has been able to supply discounted B20 to local markets, in turn helping the plant to keep more employees on staff and operations afloat
By Ron Kotrba | October 15, 2014

At a time when the U.S. biodiesel industry is struggling with the lapsed federal tax credit, a long-overdue RFS biodiesel volume mandate for this year and falling diesel prices, biodiesel producers—particularly the small-scale, community-based plants—have had to become ultra-resourceful to keep afloat. Midlands Biofuels in South Carolina has been one of those resourceful operations.

Through a $42,000 Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant awarded by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Midlands Biofuels was able to discount the price of its biodiesel—up to $1 per gallon off, according to Midlands Biofuels co-owner “Bio” Joe Renwick—and get B20 blends back into the local market.

The grant funding helped get discounted biodiesel blends back in the hands of companies such as OM Biofuels LLC, to which Renwick says his company delivered a 7,500 gallon tanker of B20 last month.

Renwick was also able to discount 750 gallons of B20 to a drag racer who holds the fourth-fastest quarter mile time in the nation, to haul the racecar around in his diesel truck running on 20 percent bio.

Brabham Oil, a large fuel distributor in the state, was also able to benefit from the grant funding by receiving a discounted 7,500 gallon load of B20 from Midlands Biofuels.

It doesn’t stop there though.

The City of Columbia has been running B20 from Midlands in its garbage trucks and the grant funding allowed Midlands Biofuels to discount more B20 for the city to use bio blends in different applications, such as fire trucks and other diesel-powered city vehicles.

“It’s been a great, great thing,” Renwick tells Biodiesel Magazine. “We’ve been awarded this grant a number of times, and because we’re good stewards of the money, we get an opportunity to apply each year.”

Renwick says because of this DERA grant, Midlands Biofuels has been able to keep more employees on staff and sell more fuel than otherwise.

“The timing of the grant is huge,” he says. “In an era when the industry is waiting on EPA to release this year’s renewable volume obligation figures under the RFS, and with the federal tax credit being lapsed, we’ve been able to make fuel without going broke—without losing money on our fuel.”

Midlands Biofuels’ resourcefulness doesn’t end there though.

The company recently began selling its biodiesel online. Midlands Biofuels is a member of the TDI club, and the company holds a car show at its plant every year, Renwick says. One of the TDI’ers drives an hour and a half to Midlands Biofuels, just for a 5-gallon tub. Renwick says the driver adds a little bit to each tank full to add lubricity to his fuel. The driver told Renwick he should sell the fuel online, so Renwick decided it was time to enter the digital age of online B100 sales.

“For us, it’s a way to get our fuel out to more people so they don’t have to drive all the way out to Winnsboro to get it,” Renwick says. “It’s been a limiting factor for us.”

Renwick says for many biodiesel users, it’s not necessarily about the cost or price of the fuel, but rather the performance—and the principle.

The company will soon be making 55-gallon barrels of B100 available for purchase online as well.