American Biofuels tests new Bakersfield plant

Continuous-flow process utilizes 'plug-in' modular units
By Tom Bryan | January 28, 2004
American Biofuels LLC completed the first round of production test runs at its new Bakersfield, Calif., facility in early November. The plant, which is 35 percent owned by an affiliated investment company called Green Star Products Inc., employs a novel continuous-flow process technology and recently relocated a small production unit from Adelanto, Calif., to Bakersfield.

American Biofuels is using a proprietary reactor/separator module designed to produce 2.5 mmgy per unit. A single module was on line in early November, according to Green Star Products, and additional plug-in modules will be added to increase capacity. In time, the plant could produce as much as 35 mmgy. Various reports, however, indicate that more immediate plans call for expanding the plant to about 15 mmgy as the biodiesel market develops in central California.

Planning and design considerations reportedly caused some delay in the startup of the plant. The footprint of the facility was initially engineered to be quite small, but the proprietary modular design indicated that a larger plant could eventually be built at a much lower incremental cost. As a result of this change in design, the company reported, some unexpected delays were experienced in several areas, including delivery of the equipment.

The testing completed in early November was standard: Initial production test runs are required by all commercial and industrial plants to set relays, circuits, alarms, samples of intermediate production steps and other parameters, according to Green Star Products. The Bakersfield plant start-up process was particularly intense because of the continuous-flow process it employs. Representatives of American Biofuels claim the process reduces the footprint needed for production, while also reducing maintenance and operational costs, capital construction costs and construction time.

In an article published by the Bakersfield Californian, an American Biofuels representative said the company believes the process is more efficient than batch fermentation because it eliminates the need to separate single batches of biodiesel and glycerin, and also eliminates the need for large heated vats used in the batch approach.

35-acre industrial facility site American Biofuels is located at a 35-acre industrial site reportedly owned by Hondo Chemical Inc., which manufactures organic fertilizers in Bakersfield. After signing a joint venture with Hondo Chemical, American Biofuels moved its former 2.5-mmgy plant from Adelanto to Bakersfield. The joint venture includes an existing 12,000-square-foot building with its own railroad spur, loading docks and railroad cars. Additional facilities include office space, fully-equipped chemical labs, biofuels storage tanks, utilities and excess heat capabilities from existing fertilizer operations.

According to Green Star Products, the Hondo Chemical site offers space for vast expansion. The existing facility could reportedly support production in excess of 50 mmgy.

Bakersfield is an ideal location for biodiesel production, a company statement said, because most of the oil refineries in California are located nearby and the area has extensive infrastructure to transport fuels throughout California, via rail, truck and pipeline.

Hondo Chemical is not only a partner in the project, but a customer as well.

The first biodiesel fuel produced by American Biofuels was delivered to Hondo Chemical, which is trying to set an example by being the first industrial facility in Bakersfield to use biodiesel in its off-road equipment.

Two feedstocks tested
During test runs, the module was reportedly tested with different percentages of recycled vegetable oil-often called yellow grease-and virgin soybean oil as production feedstocks.

Recycled vegetable oil was gathered from local restaurants and food processors. While Biodiesel Magazine was unable to ascertain the going market price of recycled oil in central California, rendering facilities in some parts of the Midwest are able to sell recycled vegetable oil by the truckload for as much as 16-cents-per-pound.

According to one report, the facility was originally designed to use yellow grease, which is generally thought to be economical to purchase but slightly more expensive to process than soybean oil. However, it was indicated in recent company statements that federal production subsidies might make an oilseed feedstock favorable. If soybean oil is used, it will reportedly be rail-transported in from outside the region. Joseph LaStella, president of Green Star Products, said in a company statement that the plant's feedstock choice will come down to economics.
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