Clearly Biodiesel

Sanimax's double distillation technique reportedly produces a super-clean biodiesel. The feedstock-neutral process allows the company to use everything from soy oil to low-cost animal fat and restaurant grease.
By Susanne Retka Schill | June 21, 2007
Taking a new technology to commercial scale can be a risky endeavor. In its current quest, Sanimax believes the opportunities outweigh the risks as it employs a new process to scale-up the production of biodiesel using low-cost animal fats and other high free-fatty-acid (FFA) feedstocks. The result is a highly efficient process that yields biodiesel that is as clear as water.

Sanimax Energy a $20 million, 20 MMgy plant in DeForest, Wis., came on line in April. The plant used soy oil in its first weeks of production, but in late May switched to high FFA feedstocks from rendered animal byproducts. The plant was expected to be running full tilt by mid-June, according to plant manager Russ Read. Plans are already underway to break ground on a second plant this year that will be operational in 2008, says Jeremy Goodfellow, vice president of Sanimax Energy, although he wasn't at liberty to disclose a location at press time. More 20 MMgy and 40 MMgy plants will follow and will be built near the company's feedstock sources. The company also plans to expand through production and marketing agreements.

Sanimax's plans for growth are based on its confidence in Nova Biosource Fuel Inc.'s patented production process. The real advantage of the process for Sanimax, with its roots in the rendering industry, is its feedstock neutrality. "The free-fatty-acid level for us makes no difference," says Nova Biosource President J.D. McGraw. Feedstocks with 2 percent or higher FFAs can be problematic for traditional biodiesel plants because it creates soaps that need to be removed, resulting in yield losses as high as 30 percent. The Nova Biosource process has been successfully tested in the lab using feedstocks that contain up to 60 percent FFA, says McGraw, although a plant typically will blend feedstocks to keep the FFA level at about 20 percent. Blending allows the plant to change feedstocks without shutting down, he says, but adjustments do need to be made to compensate for different FFA levels.

Animal fats aren't the only feedstocks with high FFA content, he adds. Waste vegetable oils from fast-food restaurants can run as high as 20 percent. Even virgin soybean oil, typically a 1 percent FFA feedstock, can shoot up to 15 percent if left in a railcar during a week of hot summer days, he says.

Efficient Process
Nova Biosource technology "fixes" the FFA in the first stage of the process when moisture and impurities are removed, Read says. The second phase is a standard transesterification reaction. "Then we have a continuous liquid-liquid separation that is proprietary technology," he says. "The light phase goes one way and the glycerin phase goes another. Next we have a double refining stage to remove the methanol and, secondly, to purify the biodiesel and the same for the glycerin." Methanol recovery is highly efficient at 99.7 percent to 99.8 percent, Read says.

The process is unique in its ability to deliver high yields and quality while keeping costs low, Read says. In addition, nearly all the high-cost methanol is recaptured. Waste products that other plants typically send to a landfill get used as a primary energy source for the process. "Our natural gas consumption is extremely low," Read says. Water treatment costs experienced in traditional biodiesel processes are eliminated in the Nova Biosource technology because it uses a dry purification process to make biodiesel.

Although the plant doesn't have enough run history to qualify for BQ9000 certification, it is producing product that is superior to its published specifications, Read says. For example, the flash point is listed at greater than 130 degrees Celsius (266 degrees Fahrenheit) on the spec sheet. "We haven't tested anything less than 180 degrees (356 degrees Fahrenheit)," Read says. The spec sheet that compares Sanimax's product with ASTM D6751-06B biodiesel also shows that it has a lower moisture content resulting in less biological growth and filter plugging. "Our ash content is low and our sulfur is low," Read says. The cloud point and oxidative stability numbers depend upon the feedstocks used, he adds.

The process also produces a high-quality glycerin coproduct. Sanimax has added a "polishing" step to further refine the glycerin to U.S. pharmaceutical (USP) grade standards, which make it suitable for use in food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Sanimax is also participating in trials with antifreeze producers testing the use of the coproduct as antifreeze without first being converted into propylene glycol. Goodfellow says the company hopes to get ASTM approval soon. "We see glycerin as an excellent additional value stream for biodiesel producers," he says.

Roots in Rendering
Sanimax Inc. was created in 2005 by the merger of two well-established, family-held rendering companies and a third company that sold animal byproducts for feed. Green Bay, Wis.-based Anamax got its start in 1881 as the Green Bay Soap Co. Sanimal started in the early 1920s in Montreal as a rendering company. Bi-Pro Marketing Ltd. in Guelph, Ontario, started in the pet foods business in 1992. The combined companies have facilities in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, throughout the northeastern United States and in the Midwestern states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The company processes 100 MMgy of animal fats and yellow grease, placing it among the largest independent rendering companies in North America. It's considered independent because it doesn't have animal feeding or slaughter capabilities like Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill. Sanimax handles the hides, meat, fat trimmings and bone byproducts from the slaughter industry. It prepares hides for domestic and export leather markets and sells the byproducts for feed. It has a separate service that picks up waste vegetable oil from restaurants and food processing plants.

Biodiesel could become a much-needed new revenue stream for the rendering industry. The prime animal fats that can be used for oleochemicals, soap manufacturing and animal feed are at the high end of the market, while lower grade fats, waste restaurant oil and other waste greases are generally burned. The market has been challenged by mad cow disease and concerns about bird flu, McGraw says. "Twenty-six countries have banned U.S. animal fats," he says. Some countries have seen the market for animal fats drop from 20 to 25 cents per pound to 3 cents. The announcement this spring of the alliance between Tyson Foods Inc. and ConocoPhillips to develop renewable diesel from Tyson byproducts had a positive impact on the market. The price for animal fats was 30 percent below soybean oil earlier this year, and narrowed to a 10 percent discount after the announcement, Goodfellow says. However, McGraw expects the increase will be short-lived. "The overall trend has been downward," he says. "The challenge for the biodiesel industry will be the ability to compete with fossil fuels in the face of increasing feedstock costs and emerging technologies, such as renewable diesel," Goodfellow says.

Sanimax will be looking to develop additional feedstocks to blend with the fats produced in its rendering plants and yellow grease operations for its biodiesel production. It is also continuing to review emerging technologies. "We see promise with the third- and fourth-generation renewable fuel technologies such as pyrolysis and hydrogen produced from renewable sources," Goodfellow says.

Susanne Retka Schill is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach her at [email protected] or (701) 746-8385.
Array ( [REDIRECT_REDIRECT_HTTPS] => on [REDIRECT_REDIRECT_SSL_TLS_SNI] => [REDIRECT_REDIRECT_STATUS] => 200 [REDIRECT_HTTPS] => on [REDIRECT_SSL_TLS_SNI] => [REDIRECT_STATUS] => 200 [HTTPS] => on [SSL_TLS_SNI] => [HTTP_HOST] => [HTTP_CONNECTION] => Keep-Alive [HTTP_ACCEPT_ENCODING] => gzip [HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR] => [HTTP_CF_RAY] => 7722ad6bfbbf802d-IAD [HTTP_X_FORWARDED_PROTO] => https [HTTP_CF_VISITOR] => {"scheme":"https"} [HTTP_USER_AGENT] => CCBot/2.0 ( [HTTP_ACCEPT] => text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8 [HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE] => en-US,en;q=0.5 [HTTP_CF_CONNECTING_IP] => [HTTP_CF_IPCOUNTRY] => US [HTTP_CDN_LOOP] => cloudflare [PATH] => /sbin:/usr/sbin:/bin:/usr/bin [SERVER_SIGNATURE] =>
Apache/2.2.15 (CentOS) Server at Port 443
[SERVER_SOFTWARE] => Apache/2.2.15 (CentOS) [SERVER_NAME] => [SERVER_ADDR] => [SERVER_PORT] => 443 [REMOTE_ADDR] => [DOCUMENT_ROOT] => /datadrive/websites/ [SERVER_ADMIN] => [email protected] [SCRIPT_FILENAME] => /datadrive/websites/ [REMOTE_PORT] => 32448 [REDIRECT_QUERY_STRING] => url=articles/1708/clearly-biodiesel [REDIRECT_URL] => /app/webroot/articles/1708/clearly-biodiesel [GATEWAY_INTERFACE] => CGI/1.1 [SERVER_PROTOCOL] => HTTP/1.1 [REQUEST_METHOD] => GET [QUERY_STRING] => url=articles/1708/clearly-biodiesel [REQUEST_URI] => /articles/1708/clearly-biodiesel [SCRIPT_NAME] => /app/webroot/index.php [PHP_SELF] => /app/webroot/index.php [REQUEST_TIME_FLOAT] => 1669801811.994 [REQUEST_TIME] => 1669801811 )