Railroad to make its own biodiesel

By Kris Bevill | February 11, 2008
A steady supply of affordable biodiesel is hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest. That's why Green Diesel Inc. has decided to make its own. The subsidiary of Tri-City & Olympia Railroad Co. (railroad code TCRY) in Richland, Wash., will produce biodiesel for TCRY locomotives, making it the first known railroad company to produce its own biodiesel.

TCRY currently handles approximately 100 cars on its 127-mile short line and uses 500 gallons of fuel each week.

Dave Samples, director of business development for TCRY, said Green Diesel has built a small research plant in Richland, capable of producing 1 MMgy. Samples said the facility could begin operating as soon as mid-April. Green Diesel General Manager Jack Farrell said the plant is designed to produce fuel in small batches. "Part of the problem that plants are having is that the industry right now is not economically feasible to handle huge, continuous-flow plants," he said. "We're not convinced that bigger is better. [We] can run 50 gallons or 50,000 gallons, it doesn't matter. I can do it once today or 10 times this week. We took a conservative approach to this. We wanted to be able to keep our expenses and up-front costs low and not gamble on the industry until our research is complete."

ConAgra Foods Inc. is a client on TCRY's line and has agreed to supply Green Diesel with oil for its research plant. The company will purchase varying types of ConAgra's 26 food-grade virgin oils to test and determine what works best for its locomotives, although food-grade oil is one of the more expensive oils for biodiesel producers. "The price of oil right now is really immaterial to us because we're doing it for research," Farrell said. "My concern is finding what oil works best for us for freight operations and locomotives." After determining which process will produce a consistent end-product, Farrell said his company will consider switching to a more economical feedstock, such as waste vegetable oil.

"Our real goal is to do the research and, as a result of the research, use the product in our locomotives," Samples said. "We do not have any intent to sell the biodiesel from this plant, neither through retail nor wholesale."

Green Diesel recently purchased a 33-acre lot in Richland for the construction of a larger production plant. Samples is optimistic that a 15 MMgy plant in that location could be built and operational in two years.
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