Tag Archives: feedstock

2012 Collective Biofuels Conference: Day 1

In the past I have always been excited in the days leading up to the conference, but never more so than today.

Within a few short moments of my arrival at the Temecula Creek Inn, this year’s primary conference venue, I found myself in the midst of a discussion with Gerhard Knothe (USDA ARS) regarding alternative fuels feedstock. A few minutes later Rod Yawn and I are in deep discussion about cationic resins, which is then followed by me meandering over to Leon Griffin of WVO Designs who is intently constructing his Beast Centrifuge which will be on display at the vendor tables.

This years participants number slightly less than a hundred. Many have come long distances, from Europe, to the Eastern United States, Canada, and India.

Many old friends are here, and in some ways it is a time for us to reflect on our past year in the industry. Sometimes our discussions evolve into a type of cathartic commiseration.

Don Scott of the National Biodiesel Board said something to me earlier in the evening that struck me as as especially applicable for the folks here. The essence of what he said to me is that a person’s dedication to a cause tended to increase in a manner proportional to the amount of suffering one has endured in its furtherance.

We are all survivors here. We all have spent the year learning, making mistakes, and recovering from them.

I am proud to be here, amongst others who share a similar devotion to making our fuel an integral part of a solution to our global energy needs.

Make it a better place.

Todd

 

 

On biodiesel, feedstock, and production as a service.

This week the National Biodiesel Boards annual conference will be held in Texas.

With last week’s release of the EPA’s final rules related to RFS 2, a biodiesel mandate will be in place this year.  I suppose a good deal of time will be spent discussing the mandate, the future of renewable identification numbers (RINS), and the current situation with the lapsed excise tax credit.

But whether or not a new mandate is in place or the excise tax credit returns, the core industry problem remains; feedstock.

The life blood of any biodiesel production plant is feedstock. Whatever the feedstock, be it virgin vegetable oil, yellow or brown grease, or animal tallow, in general it must be tracked and prepared for its future conversion to methyl esters.

Feedstock represents the majority of the cost of operation, and its secure and consistent acquisition is a daily challenge. Preparing the oil in a way that facilitates its consistent conversion requires the development and maturation of a carefully coordinated system of processes and practices that allow incoming oil to be collected, cataloged, tested, categorized, filtered, de-watered, neutralized, at times blended, and stored prior to processing.

Promethean is fortunate to have a relatively large facility space, but early  decisions made about our approach to storage has meant that the focus here is on high throughput.

It is easy to build excessive capacity in the biofuels arena and it is more important to conserve cash at startup than to spend it on potential future capacity. The issue here is that we have recently been approached by groups or organizations that want us to stretch the limits of our capacity. Although I am a proponent of service delivery based on just in time manufacture, in this industry issues related to transportation are relatively common, and it is best to have a cushion for problems that may arise from timing or the myriad other things that can interfere with the scheduled drop off of feedstock or pick up of finished product.

I am not conservative. I am a risk taker. The proof of the latter is my participation in this industry.

Feedstock prices in California remain high, and may remain so over the next few months.

At Promethean we view the production of biodiesel first and foremost as a service. This view means that we must constantly explore ways to add value to our customers as well as reduce the costs related to production. Focusing on manufacturing as a service has other consequents as well, some yet to be discovered.

As it stands, an increased level of vertical integration is required in our collection approach and infrastructure, since it is obvious that without the ability to obtain some percentage of the feedstock required for production we cannot sustain-ably render our services in the long term.

Problems are opportunities, and the feedstock problem for a plant of our scale is easily solved with hard work, a commitment to service, and time.

Make it a better place!

Todd