Biodiesel catalyst plant starts production in Alabama

By Ron Kotrba | April 15, 2009
Evonik Degussa Corp. held a plant dedication ceremony on April 28 to celebrate the commissioning of its new sodium methylate plant in Mobile, Ala. The 60,000 metric ton (16.5 million gallon) per year facility was built to serve North American biodiesel producers.

Until now, Evonik Degussa has supplied U.S. biodiesel producers with catalyst made at its German facility. The new plant in Alabama, however, employs a different process to produce sodium methylate than its German counterpart. Instead of using an electrolysis process to make sodium methylate from sodium hydroxide and methanol, the new facility employs reactive distillation to make the same ready-to-use catalyst.

At the plant dedication event, Biodiesel Magazine talked with Evonik Degussa's head of electrolysis products and alkoxides business line, Joes Berges, about the health of the global biodiesel industry. Berges said despite low energy prices the world over, biodiesel production and use in many countries is thriving � except in the United States.

Recent tariffs on U.S. B99 entering Europe and the delay in implementing RFS2 � which includes the 1-billion gallon biomass-based diesel mandate � have caused significant stress on U.S. biodiesel production, Berges said, adding that no industry can survive based on export markets alone; a strategy U.S. producers and marketers have relied on for the past few years.

Berges says the U.S. biodiesel industry can rejuvenate itself by expediting the implementation of RFS2 and creating local markets.

Implementation of RFS2 is slow-going, however, because U.S. EPA must consider several factors, including creating a mechanism to account for biodiesel blending � or the means to accurately monitor renewable identification number credit sales and purchases through the EPA's development of a Moderated Tracking System � and the contentious issue of indirect land use change.

Berges was also asked if the new plant will serve producers outside North America � such as those in Brazil or Argentina. The intended geographic market for the sodium methylate produced in Alabama is North America, he said, but Evonik Degussa would look at supplying the catalyst elsewhere if economics dictate a reevaluation of this original marketing strategy.

The Evonik Degussa chemical park in Mobile, Ala., where the new catalyst manufacturing facility is located, contains 17 chemical plants. The company began chemical production there in 1976.
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