Benchmark Energy supplies UND glycerin for coal-fired operations

By Bryan Sims | November 30, 2011

The Woodlands, Texas-based glycerin refiner and supplier BenchMark Energy Corp. has finalized an agreement with the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks to deliver 150,000 gallons of unrefined glycerin per month to be used as a Btu supplement in UND’s existing coal-fired operations.

Benchmark Energy and its subsidiary, Energy Partners LLC, have delivered the first 45,000 gallons of glycerin, but the company ultimately wants to deliver UND at least 75,000 gallons per month with future deliveries in subsequent months, according to Benchmark Energy CEO Mark Bateman.

With minimal costs associated to modifications of its coal-fired power operations, Bateman said UND plans to get from 10 to 20 percent of its total Btu energy needs from burning crude glycerin with coal.

“We know we can get to 10 percent,” Bateman told Biodiesel Magazine, “but our goal is to hit 15 percent. We think we’ll be there in the next 30 to 60 days.”

At a 15 percent mix of crude glycerin with coal, Bateman stated that a quantifiable and predictive reduction in GHG emissions is highly variable due to the inconsistency of crude glycerin that comes from one biodiesel plant to another. Realizing this, Bateman said, “We think it’ll reduce emissions by 20 percent if [UND] burns 15 percent of refined glycerin with coal.”

Bateman said his company is delivering crude glycerin to UND at a cost of about 65 cents per gallon. This equates to $4.50 to $5 per million Btu of glycerin compared to $2.80 to $3 per million Btu for coal. While the cost of using glycerin in coal-fired operations may be a bit more expensive, Bateman said the investment of co-firing glycerin with coal power operations pays off, especially with the backdrop of federal regulatory measures coming down through the EPA’s BMACT (Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology) standards, which are slated to go into effect Jan 1, 2012 .

“For us, we’re priced just a little more than coal at 65 cents per gallon,” Bateman said, “but you don’t have to make major improvements and you don’t have the increased daily operational costs associated with incorporating scrubber equipment for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.”

In addition to supplying glycerin to markets used as a Btu enhancement in coal-fired power operations, BenchMark also supplies crude glycerin to the asphalt manufacturing market and is exploring other applications such as blending with sludge oils like bunker fuel (No. 6 grade diesel) to be used as a fuel source in the rail and shipping industries. For its future refined glycerin, Bateman said his company is exploring supplying the product to be used as a supplement in animal feed and used as a lubricant substitute or supplement to harsher chemicals being used in the fractionation of underground oil and gas exploration operations such as in the Bakken Oil Formation in western North Dakota.

Benchmark Energy is currently in discussions with the city of Grand Forks, N.D., to build a 21,600 square-foot, eight-acre crude glycerin processing facility. The project was approved by the Grand Forks Growth Fund committee and the Jobs Development Authority in October and upon completion of the project, expected by late next year, Energy Partners plans to hire 29 full-time employees at the facility. The future facility is expected to have the capacity to process approximately 10 million gallons of crude glycerin annually sourced from a number of biodiesel plants within an 800-mile radius of Grand Forks.

Since the glycerin refining plant isn’t built yet in Grand Forks, the glycerin supplied to UND will be sourced from biodiesel plants operating in the surrounding area, such as in Minnesota or plants in Canada, according to Bateman.

“We think we’re going to have an impact on the [biodiesel] market,” Bateman said. “We think we’ll help stabilize the biodiesel industry by creating a demand for their glycerin on the backside.”


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