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Nation's Largest Biodiesel Plant Under Construction in Washington

The nation’s largest biodiesel refinery is currently under construction at the Port of Grays Harbor, which is located between Aberdeen and Hoquiam. The refinery is being built by Imperium Renewables at an estimated cost of $65 million. It is scheduled to be up and running by June of 2007. The refinery is designed to produce 100 million gallons per year of biodiesel.

Biodiesel is a renewable alternative to petroleum-based diesel fuel. It is made from refined vegetable oil, which comes from such crops as soybeans, palm and canola. Consumers are interested in biodiesel for a variety of reasons: it is a cleaner-burning alternative to petroleum-based diesel fuel; it is made from a renewable resource and has the potential to reduce America’s dependence of foreign oil.


The first question that might come to mind is can you use biodiesel in your car? Blends of a maximum of 20% biodiesel and 80% regular diesel can be burned in any conventional diesel engine. Most of the newer diesel engines can now handle biodiesel on it’s own (check your owner’s manual please). There are also aftermarket kits available to modify your old diesel engine to handle straight biodiesel. Currently, government bodies and private companies with large fleets of trucks use the majority of biodiesel consumed in the state of Washington. Local users include city of Seattle vehicles, King County Metro buses and a few of the freight movers at the Port of Seattle. Besides burning cleaner, biodiesel also has a cleansing property to it. Current users have found that when they switch over, the biodiesel dislodges built up engine deposits and you have to change out your fuel filter for the engine to continue to run well.


The second question might be do you want to use biodiesel. It is likely to be more expensive than regular diesel. Currently, biodiesel sells for $3.28 per gallon in the Seattle Metro area while the traditional petroleum-based diesel fuel is selling for $3.00 per gallon. Whether or not it can be less expensive will depend on plant efficiencies as well as the cost of raw materials. Imperium can currently buy soy oil from Iowa for about $2.70 per gallon, which does not leave much room for cost reduction through efficiency. It can import palm oil from Malaysia for about .60 a gallon less. However, biodiesel refined from palm oil has a tendency to clump up and run poorly in cold weather.

This new plant would seem to be a solid step for the fans of biodiesel. As a nation, we consumed 63 billion gallons of petroleum-based diesel fuel in 2005. In that same year, there were 75 million gallons of biodiesel sold. Also in 2005, Washington became the second state in the U.S. to mandate that 2% of all diesel in the state be biodiesel. This means that 20% of the production from the new plant will satisfy legislated demand in our state with the remainder being available to help expand the use of biodiesel in other consumer oriented areas. Whether or not they are successful in expanding the market might depend on how efficiently they can produce the fuel.


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