Biofuel company hits million-gallon mark

Published 12:17 am Friday, August 3, 2007

Natchez — Big numbers don’t faze Clint Vegas and the crew at Delta Biofuels.

But occasionally one number will make them at least take note and smile a bit.

On Wednesday, the Delta Biofuels president said the company just surpassed a milestone — producing its one-millionth gallon of the soybean-oil produced fuel.

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“We’re really, really excited,” Vegas said. “Excited to be here and to be in our own backyard.”

He and others from the company were guest speakers at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Natchez.

Delta Biofuels purchased the mothballed Ethyl Petroleum Additives facility at the Adams County Port last year and retrofitted parts of it to produce biodiesel.

Hitting the one-million-gallon mark is only the beginning of what’s to come, Vegas said.

Work at the facility is almost completed so production can switch from making fuel one batch at a time to allow continuous production, a move that could ramp up production significantly, said Scott Nisula, chief technical officer at Delta Biofuels.

Operating in batch mode, the company has the capacity to produce approximately 25 million gallons of fuel annually.

In continuous mode, that number could be up to 100 million gallons, he said.

Getting to that level, Nisula said, requires a combination of things to come together.

“From an mechanical point of view, we’re almost there,” he said, adding that other items they needed were increased raw material amounts and increased demand for the product. “It requires a lot of logistics.”

Moving into continuous mode will probably be completed in the first quarter of 2008, Nisula said. As production grows, the economic impact to the local economy will, too, he said.

Delta Biofuels currently employs more than 20, Nisula said.

Biodiesel burns more efficiently in traditional engines designed to burn petroleum-based diesel such as farm tractors and trucks, Vegas said.

Blending soybean oil, alcohol and a catalyst together makes biodiesel. The fuel is gaining popularity among agricultural users and even the government as a way to wean the U.S. off the dependency on foreign oil.

“We need to wake up and realize that we need alternatives,” Vegas said.