It’s not a brand new idea, but the concept of co-locating ethanol and biodiesel plants has been catching on more and more lately. This article from Biodiesel Magazine talks about how ethanol refiners are looking to take their by-product, distillers corn oil (DCO), and turn it into biodiesel to add value to those ethanol plants already on the ground, while diversifying their operations.
“Over the past several years, biodiesel margins have been really strong,” says Ray Baker, general manager for Adkins Energy LLC, a 50 MMgy ethanol refinery in Lena, Ill. Adkins Energy announced last fall that it has contracted with WB Services to install a 2 MMgy biodiesel facility on-site with help from a $500,000 grant from USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program. “But one of the reasons I think we really like the project and the idea behind it,” Baker says, “is that we are already producing a conventional biofuel—corn-based ethanol—and we’ll now be producing an advanced biofuel in biodiesel, and I know in the future we’ll have the opportunity to be producing cellulosic ethanol. So we look at all aspects of the RFS and the growth that’s really built into that, and we see those opportunities.”
In recent years, DCO has emerged as one of the fastest-growing biodiesel feedstocks, and the technologies to effectively convert DCO to biodiesel have been improving. “I think once they got to that point, that helped the technology evolve and the idea behind it become more economical to install into a plant,” he says. “Before, the size of biodiesel plants was much larger, and now I think bolting them onto ethanol technologies on a smaller scale has become economical.”
The article goes on to talk about how better integration of the two fuels’ technologies is making these co-located plants more feasible. In addition, new technologies for brewing biodiesel, especially enzymatic technologies in the pretreatment of the corn oil and replacing the usual biodiesel catalyst methanol with the already available ethanol, are making biodiesel-ethanol operations more likely.