California Companies to Build Biofuels Plants

By Published On: February 9, 2007

Santa Maria and the Port of Stockton may soon become home to new biofuels plants. If so, Santa Maria will host the state’s largest ethanol production plant. Additional ethanol- and biodiesel-making facilities would be developed along the Stockton waterfront. Next week, American Ethanol plans to file an application with the county of Santa Barbara for a permit to build a 110-million-gallon-per-year ethanol production plant just west of Santa Maria, company president Dave Baskett told Circuit. Santa Maria-based American Ethanol already has arranged most of the financing it needs to build the $200 million-plus facility. The plant is intended to produce ethanol as a blend stock for California gasoline refiners from Midwest corn hauled in by rail. The company plans to transport the ethanol it makes to refineries in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas both by rail and in empty gasoline tanker trucks after they have delivered fuel to area service stations, the company president said. It also would sell dried distiller’s grain, a byproduct of ethanol produced from corn, to dairies as feed, he said. American has completed a conceptual review of the project with the county and hopes to obtain its conditional land-use permit by this summer. However, if a full environmental impact review is required, it could take a year before the county takes final action on the application, said Kevin Drude, Santa Barbara County planner. It’s expected to take around 14 months to build the plant, said Baskett. Meanwhile, Pacific Ethanol is planning to construct another production plant at the Port of Stockton. The plant will expand the company’s California ethanol production capacity, which is based at its recently opened plant in Madera. That facility is expected to produce 35 million gallons a year. Last month the port commission approved an environmental impact report for the proposed 50-million-gallon-per-year production plant on 30 acres along the Stockton waterfront, according to Kimberly Mah, port property manager. Company and port officials inked a final long-term lease for the plant February 5. The company can start construction virtually any time, she said. Pacific is not the only company planning a biofuels plant at the Port of Stockton, according to Mah. A number of biodiesel makers are interested too. Biofuels companies like the Port of Stockton because it stands at the nexus of rail and water transportation lines and the heart of Central Valley agriculture, according to Lisa Mortenson, Community Fuels chief executive officer. The Encinitas-based company has entered a long-term lease with the port to build a plant that would initially produce 7.5 million gallons of biodiesel a year, she explained. The company hopes to break ground on the facility in the weeks ahead and eventually expand it as the biodiesel market grows. American plans to truck its product to San Francisco Bay Area refiners to blend in their diesel fuel. Blends may include up to 20 percent biodiesel, Mortenson said. The company plans to make biodiesel out of soybean oil brought in by trains. It also is interested in partnering with California growers to supply feedstock for the plant. Mortenson added that American is in talks for two other sites in California where it wants to build plants with a combined biodiesel production capacity of 20 million gallons a year. The company also is planning to build a research and development facility to test novel feedstocks for producing biodiesel in Sonoma County. The plant would join seven other sizable biodiesel production plants operating in California, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

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