Earl Fisher Biofuels supplies biodiesel to BNSF

By Bryan Sims | July 13, 2010
Posted July 21, 2010

For Earl Fisher Biofuels co-owner Brett Earl, farming isn't a new undertaking. He, a fourth generation farmer, and business partner Logan Fisher are veterans when it comes to harvesting the hundreds of oilseed crops that go into their 275,000 gallon per year biodiesel production facility in Chester, Mont. However, having engines owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. to run on their biodiesel is a new enterprise they hope will flourish with positive results over the next year.

On July 1, Earl Fisher Biofuels delivered its first shipment of biodiesel to BNSF at the Havre Depot. The study calls for Montana State University-Northern Bio-Energy Center to conduct laboratory testing of the biodiesel performance in one switch train running on regular diesel, which will act as a control, and the other will run on a B20 blend, mostly made from canola and camelina oil in order to test performance in extreme cold weather conditions come winter time.

Over the next year, Earl Fisher Biofuels will supply BNSF with 24,000 gallons of biodiesel-roughly 2,000 gallons per month-for the duration of the study, according to Earl.
"I'm not sure if we can supply their entire fleet with our product," Earl said.

Earl Fisher Biofuels and MSU-Northern have a history of partnering on related biodiesel experiements and studies as the school has a diesel mechanics curriculum. For the study with BNSF, the college wasn't capable of producing the quantity of biodiesel needed for the test, so it turned to nearby Earl Fisher Biofuels to fill the supply gap.

Earl Fisher Biofuels began production in the spring of 2008. The company is looking to eventually ramp up production to 1MMgy later this year, according to Earl.

"We've sized our utilities for 1MMgy plus," he said. "Our reactor is just a 500-gallon reactor and so that limits our capacity. We would just modulate our reactors to increase our capacity."

The company also has an oilseed crushing plant in the production facility, which crushes approximately 600 to 700 gallons per week of oil depending on what oilseed it crushes. Although the majority of Earl Fisher Biofuels' feedstock is predominantly camelina, the company also processes canola, safflower, sunflower and occasionally mustard seeds.

Since approximately 70 percent of the weight of camelina pressed for biodiesel production is meal, it leaves no room for profit. Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration clarifies rules for implementing a camelina meal market for producers, Earl said the company will continue to stockpile the product at its silos.

"That's one of the down sides of camelina," Earl said. "If we had soy-type markets for camelina meal then the industry would be going gangbusters. We just don't have that here."
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