Refinery Seeks to Jump-Start Jobs in Delta

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

The mini-refinery converts waste oils to fuel, and the waste oil collection can be performed either by the business owner or the city itself.

Once the mini-refinery is in stable use, alt.Consulting will reclaim it, and it will be replaced with a larger micro-refinery that can accept camelina.

The larger refinery will cost about $250,000 and will be purchased by the city. “A majority of it will be paid from grants,” DeWitt Mayor Ralph Relyea said.

The grants, he said will come from the Delta Regional Authority and the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District.

Eventually, the business model can move outside of just the city and can sell its excess — the larger refinery can generate 250,000 gallons per year — to businesses like Valero and FedEx. “So when you take all the transportation costs out of the model, it suddenly becomes profitable even without federal or state subsidies,” Polonius said.

Making It Work

The plans for the Delta region are huge: Polonius said there are 870,000 acres that could be used for camelina.

The idea, Polonius said, is to lease Davis’ initial refinery to another town and continue replicating the process in 25 to 30 communities across the Delta. Once duplicated enough in Arkansas, the project can also expand to other Delta states.

But can the project succeed? If it works, it’s supposed to inject $1.3 million annually into the DeWitt economy alone.

“The [camelina] idea has been around since 2005 as a means of getting a little energy freedom for various communities,” Byers, at Future Fuels, said. “It always sounds good on paper, but it’s a little tougher to make it work, particularly if you’re going to sell the fuel and meet all the specifications to qualify for the [federal] dollar tax credit.”

Polonius said alt.Consulting understands the risks and says expansion of the project will be “deliberate” and “cautious.”

“On the smaller scale, you can control the cost of your operation and such to a much better extent to keep it profitable,” Relyea said.

The response has so far been positive, Relyea added. He said more than a dozen farmers from all around the Delta have already signed up to grow the crop.

“It’s turning out to be even more important than I think it was when we first visualized it,” Relyea said. “It will be something looked at by other communities to make sure it works. Because of the history of biofuels, investors are very skeptical, but once this model is proven, several private investors have already said if it works, they want in on it.”

In the meantime, the weight of the project’s success is all squarely planted on a little box in a run-down filling station in the middle of DeWitt.



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