Diverse Group

By Ron Kotrba | November 17, 2010
BBI International's Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show in Atlanta featured a biodiesel-exclusive panel, which I moderated, titled, "Biodiesel from Waste and Low-Value Feedstock." The diversity of the panel-a professor/researcher, a small-scale regional producer, a pretreatment specialist and a representative of a global biodiesel process technology provider-mirrored the eclectic nature of the biodiesel industry.

Christina Borgese, formerly with BiofuelBox and now the senior engineer and cofounder of consulting firm PreProcess Inc., opened her discussion with the importance of diesel power and how just a 2 percent blend can replace all the lubricity lost in ultra-low sulfur diesel. She gave an overview of the wide range of feedstock available for biodiesel processing, and spoke about the three D's of waste feedstock: the diverse array, distributed concentration and diluted fatty acid content. She said fats, oils and greases in sewage waste water, for instance, are as low as 35 parts per million, since most of it is water and solids.

Frank Yeboah with North Carolina A&T University discussed his Department of Defense project looking at the impact of taking all the military waste vegetable oil (WVO) for conversion to biodiesel. He said if the defense department were a country, its fuel consumption would rank 34 in the world, a testament to how much fuel our military operations use. Yeboah's project hopes to find exactly how much WVO is produced on military bases and barracks around the country, and what beneficial impacts that would have if all of it were to be converted to biodiesel.

Panelist Brandon Spence, cofounder and CEO of Midlands Biofuels in South Carolina, a community-scale biodiesel plant, said Midlands Biofuels is the only ASTM-certified biodiesel production facility in the state. He and his team also started the first green apprenticeship in South Carolina. Regarding the lapse of the $1 per gallon blenders credit, Spence said, "We collect our own feedstock and we stand on our own two feet, we don't need the dollar. In order for this business to survive, we can't do it with subsidies." Spence also said Midlands Biofuels is looking into solar applications for its process.

The final speaker was Klaus Ruhmer, BDI BioEnergy International's North American business development manager. "In order to achieve profitability, quality must be the foundation, no shortcuts," he said. "The most important pillar after that is yield. You can't run on 80 to 85 percent yield." He also noted that the subsidy was great for producers, but bad for investors, "because they would never know if it was going to go away." If feedstock prices change 5 percent, that can have a 40 percent impact on profit, he said. A 5 percent change in the price of biodiesel, or in the yield, can have a 50 percent impact on profitability.

Ron Kotrba
Biodiesel Magazine
[email protected]
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