Biofuel owner working to ready 60-acre facility

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Natchez &8212; Most Willie Nelson fans dream of seeing the country legend sing at some fancy venue, the Grand Ole Opry, perhaps.

Clint Vegas isn&8217;t your average Willie fan, however.

&8220;If this goes well, it&8217;s my plan, or goal or dream, to have Willie Nelson playing in that corner,&8221; Vegas says as he points to a darkened corner of a metal storage at the former Ethyl Petroleum Additives plant he just purchased

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Vegas already has cooked up a few batches of soybean fuel that just might lure the singer-turned biofuel spokesman to take the stage.

And, although the 60-acre facility doesn&8217;t have a formal stage, that&8217;s about the only thing Vegas doesn&8217;t have at the new facility.

&8220;We&8217;ve got so much here that it&8217;s just unbelievable,&8221; he said. &8220;We&8217;ll probably only use 25 percent of the equipment here.&8221;

Vegas, owner of Delta Fuels Company in Ferriday, recently formed a separate company, Delta Agri Fuels, which will operate the new biodiesel plant. Vegas plans to be producing large quantities of biodiesel at the new plant within four months.

Vegas and his crews are preparing to begin retrofitting part of the plant to fit the processes required to make biodiesel.

&8220;We&8217;ll start the week after Memorial Day,&8221; he said. &8220;Our goal is to be making product by Aug. 1 so we can be in line for harvest.&8221;

The facilities available are more than Vegas could have dreamed.

&8220;I was actually going to build a biodiesel plant in my backyard,&8221; he said, adding that frustrations with quality of existing biodiesel suppliers fueled his plans.

He began working with a local chemical engineer, Wanda Horne, who worked at the Ethyl plant.

&8220;As I was educating her on what we needed, she said, &8216;Hey, Clint, what you need is right here.&8217;&8221;

The Ethyl facility includes more than 6.7 million gallons of storage capacity, a 20,000-gallon reactor, rail facilities to offload 10 railcars simultaneously and more.

&8220;We&8217;ve already made 66 batches in the lab. We&8217;ve got our process down real well, under five minutes in the reactor.&8221;

Vegas said he&8217;s amazed that more industries are not coming to the area, especially given the quality of the economic development and community leadership.

&8220;Woody Allen has been fantastic for us, the Board of Supervisors, too,&8221; Vegas said. &8220;We want to thank all of them. Anything we asked for, they were accommodating to us.&8221;

Jeff Rowell, executive director of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, said the county welcomes the new plant.

&8220;We are very excited to have this company locate here,&8221; Rowell said.

Vegas estimates the plant would employ between 20 and 30 full-time employees after the initial retrofitting is complete.

By blending soybean oil with alcohol and a catalyst, biodiesel &8212; which burns more efficiently than standard petroleum diesel &8212; is made.

The pure biodiesel is rated B100, meaning it is 100 percent pure. It is often mixed with petroleum diesel and referred to by the percentage of biodiesel in the mixture.

B20 &8212; 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel &8212; has become a standard government blend, one that the Environmental Protection Agency says reduce emissions while being cost-effective.

Delta Fuels Company operates fuel branches in Ferriday, Tallulah, St. Joseph, Sicily Island and Winnsboro. Vegas said the company currently employs approximately 35 full-time workers.