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Renewable Energy Vision
Expert analysis on the most pressing issues facing the renewable energy sector in the U.S and abroad from ACORE staff, members and supporters.

Fueling America: Imperium Renewables and the Biodiesel Industry

Published on 09 Feb 2015  |   Written by    |   Be the first to comment!

All it takes is some vegetable oils and animal fats to power a diesel engine. This may sound absurd, but it’s actually what ACORE member Imperium Renewables does every day. And that’s a good thing: biodiesel reduces greenhouse gasses by more than 50% over petroleum diesel. Plus, it’s much more price stable than notoriously variable fuel prices, and it puts Americans to work generating domestic energy. Even so, the industry faces challenges.

Imperium Renewables is a biodiesel producer based out of Grays Harbor, Washington. Imperium’s facility – the second largest in the U.S. – has an annual capacity of 100 million gallons. The biodiesel it produces fuels trucks and other vehicles generally used for industrial purposes. Most of their feedstock comes from canola oil; it performs better in cold weather and is less carbon intensive than most other feedstocks.

Imperium is uniquely situated to ship biodiesel across the region and around the world. It sits on a deepwater port, and it is surrounded by clean fuel standards in California, Oregon, and British Columbia. That’s protected the company somewhat from the intense policy uncertainty faced by the industry. But the cycle of tax credit expirations and short-term extensions, when combined with revisions to the renewable fuel standard (that have yet to be finalized), has put biodiesel producers like Imperium in a bind.

Imperium CEO John Plaza told me that the company is working on some really interesting technology, including converting municipal waste into jet fuel. But it’s difficult to get venture capitalists and private investors to finance the necessary research and development for new technologies when the future of tax credits and the renewable fuel standard is constantly in flux. “It’s still really difficult to run a business under this uncertainty,” Plaza told me. He predicted that half the industry could shut down if the federal government continues to disrupt pro-biodiesel policies.

That should come as no surprise. The renewable fuels industry is only a decade or two old. Compare that to the fossil fuel industry, which has been established for over a century and has always enjoyed consistent policy support. The odds are long as is; uncertainty from the federal government doesn’t help.

One need only look at Imperium to see what’s at stake. The company invested over $90 million dollars in a rural community facing an employment rate nearly 3 times the national average. It provides its 45 employees with health benefits and livable wages, and 20% of its employees are veterans. On top of all that, the company has produced enough fuel to offset over 4 billion pounds of CO2. There’s no question that Imperium is a shining example of what our future clean energy economy can look like – and what we stand to lose if policy uncertainty continues.

Kyle McGuiness

Kyle McGuiness is a Communications Associate with ACORE.

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