Delaware Biodiesel Refinery Opens
Dozens of government and business leaders turned out Friday for a ceremonial opening at Delaware’s first commercial bio-fuels plant, a soybean oil-to-diesel factory in Clayton that could reach full production by January. President Martin Ross of Mid-Atlantic Biodiesel Inc. said during a ribbon-cutting that the new plant eventually could grow from 6 million gallons yearly to about 15 million gallons per year.
The project began taking shape before and during a Delaware Energy Task Force study commissioned by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in 2002. Ross was a member of that panel, and recalled telling Minner once that Delaware was “swimming” in soybean oil, a potential fuel source.
“This is the first step in what I think will be many, many as we look at clean energy fuels and alternate fuels,” Minner said Thursday.
Mid-Atlantic received more than $5.7 million in state and federal assistance through grants and loan guarantees.
Soy biodiesel is now mostly blended with regular fuels, and can already be purchased locally from at least 10 fuel outlets.
Officials cautioned that soy biodiesel never will replace all of the nation’s oil imports, but could contribute to easing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil while also improving markets and prices for local soybeans. Biodiesel production nationwide has grown from about 500,000 gallons in 1999 to an expected 245 million gallons this year.
Soy biodiesel plants produce fuel by crushing soybeans for their oil and using a solvent to separate glycerin from the oil. Left behind is biodiesel, a biodegradable material that is also called methyl ester. Glycerin byproducts can be sold to other industries, including soap manufacturing.
Emissions from soy biodiesel are lower than conventional diesel fuel.
Ross said that Mid-Atlantic already has arranged contracts with wholesalers for the Clayton plant’s output.
Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael T. Scuse said Mid-Atlantic’s operations could increase demand for local soybeans, moving prices upward and supporting the state’s farm economy.
The new plant relies on other crushing operations to produce the soybean oil used as raw material, Minner said. Officials are examining opportunities to develop additional local processing capability to support the plant.
Friday’s ceremonies come amid what state officials described as a mounting interest in alternate fuel projects for Delaware. At least three groups are exploring opportunities to develop ethanol distilleries in the state that would provide gasoline additivies to refineries along the Delaware River.
Pennsylvania-based FSI Energy reportedly is weighing sites around the Mid-Atlantic, including the former General Chemical along the Delaware River in Claymont. NRG Energy has queried the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control about building an ethanol plant in tandem with construction of a new coal-gasification power plant at its Indian River site near Millsboro.
Minner said a third group also is studying sites in Delaware and Maryland for an ethanol plant, but said she could not identify parties involved.