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Posted on  

August 28, 2003

Biodiesel plant proposed for Del.

Private group wants to build at Metachem site
Staff reporter

A private-industry group has proposed building a biodiesel fuel plant alongside the Motiva Enterprise's Delaware City refinery, potentially tapping the region's ample soybean crops and other farm and food industries for renewable energy.

State officials confirmed the Mid-Atlantic Biodiesel plan has roots in state and federally backed research into alternative energy sources, but few other details were available.

"It's a great idea," Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said Wednesday. "We have the capacity to produce a tremendous amount of soybeans. It would be a huge benefit to the environment and the state of Delaware."

The plant would produce methyl esters, or biodiesel, which is mixed with conventional refined oils to make cleaner-burning fuels. Blended fuels containing a low percentage of methyl ester and conventional diesel already are in use for some vehicles and motors, including hundreds of cars and trucks operated by more than 30 state agencies and Delaware businesses.

Mid-Atlantic already has petitioned the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control for a ruling on the need for a state Coastal Zone permit to build the plant on part of the bankrupt and abandoned Metachem Products chemical plant adjacent to Motiva.

DNREC Secretary John A. Hughes waived a $3,000 application fee normally charged for such applications, according to the company's permit application.

State law bans new heavy industry from a 275,000-acre strip bordering the Delaware River, Delaware Bay and Atlantic Coast.

Marty Ross, a principal in the group that sought the state permit, said it "makes sense to locate a biodiesel plant near a refinery."

Ross, a Sussex County farmer and agricultural business owner, said interest in sulfur-free biodiesel is increasing as the federal government continues efforts to drive down sulfur levels in fuel.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and state agencies have promoted biodiesel as a renewable energy source that helps improve air quality.

Initial operations would produce about 5 million gallons of biodiesel yearly, or about 25 percent of nationwide biodiesel production in 2002. Motiva, by comparison, refines about 7.35 million gallons of crude oil every day.

Company processes would use soybean oil, animal fats and other raw materials in combination with methanol, sulfuric acid and other chemicals to produce biodiesel and glycerine as a byproduct.

"We grow a good deal of soybeans, and we crush a lot of soybeans for meal for livestock, poultry and hogs," Ross said. "The oil is kind of a byproduct, we have an excess."

Earlier Wednesday, Ross made a presentation on the project to Maryland's Task Force on the Marketing of Grain and Other Agricultural Products.

"We're looking on Maryland as a fallback position," Ross said. "It's possible that they have a site that has more amenities or is more affordable."

Deborah Heaton, conservation director for the Delaware Chapter of the nonprofit Sierra Club, said her organization plans to look closely at the project and arguments for bringing a new industry to the protected Coastal Zone.

Delaware last year revoked a permit that allowed Metachem to operate a heavy industry on the property.

Heaton said the Sierra Club supports cleanup and redevelopment of abandoned industrial "brownfields."

"But here's a site where they haven't even cleaned the place up yet," Heaton said. "I don't think they totally understand what's out there yet. Why put a business in harm's way?"

Ross said the project would use a relatively uncontaminated 3- to 5-acre area outside the zone now under active state and federal cleanup. He cautioned that officials still are exploring the risk and potential liability of building at the site, long carried on a federal listing of the nation's worst contamination sites.



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