Refinery Seeks to Jump-Start Jobs in Delta

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 12:00 am  

“A couple of small ones tried to get fired up, but could never could get off the ground,” he said. “Smaller plants tend to have more problems getting up to and maintaining high levels of quality.”

He said about half of Future Fuels’ business was biofuels and most of its buyers were outside of the state.

But alt.Consulting, noting these difficulties, discovered some newer developments in the industry that were as-yet unexploited. One of them was miniature refineries, like Davis’, that were much more versatile than previous models.

“What we found with larger refineries is that you’re only allowed one input or else it requires a huge — basically — revamping of the plant,” Polonius said. “All of these processes are very costly and time-consuming before you can use a secondary input. What a micro-refinery can do is it can use any oil-based input.”

A prototype micro-refinery had already been built at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

The other factor: a seed crop called camelina.

Two agriculture professors, Terry Turner at Phillips County Community College in Helena and Steven Green at ASU, were studying the crop. It seemed perfect for biofuel for several reasons:

  • It’s not suitable for human consumption, so it wouldn’t compete with food grains;
  • It could thrive in cold temperatures, so farmers could grow it in their off season; and
  • Byproducts of the seed are rich in omega-3 acids and could be used in animal feed.

But Turner said there’s a steep learning curve to successfully growing camelina. The crop won’t survive in water, he said, and requires a different fertilizer schedule than other, similar crops.

The challenge was figuring out how camelina-based biofuel could be used with the new biorefineries effectively.

The answer, it seemed, was to scale the project from small to large, and to factor out transportation costs.

“What we were finding was the larger refineries in the state were transporting their tallow or other inputs from so far away that transportation costs of getting the input to the refinery were outstripping any money made on the back end,” Polonius said. “So what we said was we need a local source of input. We’ll grow our own, basically.”

Alt.Consulting began talking with the city of DeWitt, which already had some interest in renewable fuel resources. Davis was hired to operate the machinery, and alt.Consulting purchased it for $23,000. The nonprofit owns the unit in DeWitt and leases it to Davis, who in turn pays a royalty to the nonprofit based on his production.



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