Trends Emerge in Unofficial Biodiesel Survey

By Jessica Sobolik | April 15, 2008
Over the past six months, we've all heard reports that the biodiesel industry has hit tough times. Feedstock costs, quality concerns, a lack of legislative support and increasing construction costs have all contributed to a slowdown in production and construction. However, it was unclear to the editorial staff at Biodiesel Magazine just how much those factors were impacting the industry, and we wanted to quantify the effects of these challenges.

So, we decided to call all of the current biodiesel producers in the United States and Canada to ask them about their production levels and feedstocks, among other things. What better way to get that information than by going directly to the source? It was certainly a daunting task. We started with 154 plants, and although we may not have compiled what professional researchers would consider official data, we did come up with some interesting information that we wanted to share with our readers (see the feature on page 38). I won't give away any details here, but I wanted to explain how we organized and categorized the plants after we compiled the data.

First, we found a handful of facilities that we termed "defunct." These were plants that had produced biodiesel in the past but were now dismantled, or being used as research and development facilities. In other words, these facilities weren't likely to start producing biodiesel again. The defunct plants were separate from the 21 idle plants that admitted to us they have ceased production at this time. Some of them may have abandoned operations permanently, leaving the equipment behind for a potential restart by another company.

Others aren't quite ready to throw in the towel and are investigating alternative feedstocks such as algae, jatropha, corn or palm oil with the intent to restart production when the market is more favorable.

Sixty-one plants confirmed that they are continuing to produce biodiesel in these difficult times. These producers have a total production capacity of 938 MMgy, but many aren't producing at full capacity.

As can be expected in a project like this, there were some plants we just couldn't get a hold of, and it was hard for us to decide how to categorize those plants. We eventually decided to label them "unconfirmed" because we weren't able to determine their production status by press time (the companies didn't return our calls). This category includes some pretty big names, such as Archer Daniels Midland Co., Cargill Inc. and Peter Cremer. Although it's unlikely they've hit the same challenges as some of the smaller producers, we weren't able to confirm that, and we didn't want to make any assumptions.

Overall, I feel I can say the survey was successful, giving us a better idea of the current status of and trends in the industry. Maybe if analyzed further, it can even identify ways the industry can break out of its funk. In any case, it will most definitely help us provide editorial content that is of pertinent interest to our readers and the producers.
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