Biodiesel refinery celebrates expansion that makes it largest of its kind in Western U.S.

A clean-energy project two years and more than $40 million in the making got a proper christening Thursday as Denver-based Crimson Renewable Energy Holdings LLC celebrated an expansion that cements its position as the largest producer of ultra-low carbon biodiesel in the Western United States. The company’s 11-year-old biodiesel plant along Millux Road a half-hour south and west of Bakersfield can now process an extra 13.3 million gallons per year of biodiesel made primarily from recycled cooking oil, trap grease and rendered animal fats. Its total capacity is now close to 50 million gallons per year, or about 3,300 barrels daily. Crimson’s expansion, supported by the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and funded in part by a $9.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission, builds on Kern County’s profile as the state’s leading producer of renewable energy and biofuels. Not only can the 56-acre plant process more materials than before, but it can also refine a wider variety of feedstocks from across the West, such as brown grease. “You can think of this as a kind of specialized recycling facility,” said President and CEO Harry Simpson of plant operator Crimson Renewable Energy LP. He added that there is no other facility like it in the country.

Biodiesel is generally blended with petroleum fuels on a 20 percent basis to reduce emissions of fine particulates and greenhouse gases. It is primarily used to fuel tractor-trailers traveling through the valley. For properly equipped vehicles, it can be used 100 percent in place of conventional diesel fuel. On Thursday, the plant literally hummed with activity under towering cylindrical tanks and two massive structures of intertwined pipes, vents and valves. Men in hardhats kept dozens of visitors on strict safety protocols amid a mildly pungent odor. CEO Markus Dielacher at the Austrian-based company that helped design and build the project, BDI BioEnergy International, said a plant with similar capabilities opened in January in Hungary, and another is planned for Belgium. The only byproduct is glycerine, which he said can be used in industrial applications. State officials commended Simpson and his company for helping California make progress toward its 2035 goal of carbon neutrality.

Executive Director Richard Corey of the California Air Resources Board said about half the state’s greenhouse gas emissions come from petroleum. But achieving the state’s climate goals won’t be as easy as suddenly switching to electric vehicles, he said: Biodiesel will be an important part of the solution. “The fact of the matter is, you can’t electrify everything,” Corey said. “We’re going to be on liquid fuels for quite some time.” Crimson employs 72 people, together with one of its sister companies nearby, Delta Trading LP, which handles and stores petroleum and renewable fuels coming in by railroad.

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