Hurricane damages biodiesel facility, prompts fuel waiver

By Anna Austin | October 14, 2008
As the Atlantic hurricane season nears an end, the footprints of Gustav and Ike remain.

Hurricane Gustav made U.S. landfall Sept. 1 along the Louisiana coast as a Category 2 cyclone, causing approximately $15 billion in damages and killing more than 40 people.

Hurricane Ike, also a Category 2 storm, reached the Texas coast Sept. 12 and accounted for approximately 61 U.S. fatalities. The island city of Galveston Bay, Texas, home of the largest biodiesel production facility in the United States, suffered nearly $2 billion in damages.

GreenHunter BioFuels LLC, a subsidiary of Grapevine, Texas-based GreenHunter Energy Inc., announced its 105 MMgy Renewable Fuels Campus in Houston would be shut down for six to eight weeks due to water damage caused by Hurricane Ike. Initially, damage was anticipated to be caused by winds, but the company's preliminary damage assessment attributed the majority of the damage to floodwaters.

Damage was sustained in offices, piping between reagent tanks, and some small and intermediate tank foundations. Additionally, two bulk storage tanks containing vegetable oil and methanol tanks were affected, and as a result, 50 barrels of canola oil were lost. "Given the sheer volume of water and the extreme flood levels that we faced, our initial assessment is that we sustained overall minor to moderate impact to the Renewable Fuels Campus from Hurricane Ike," said Bruce Baughman, senior vice president of technology and engineering.

Other biodiesel facilities in the region reported minimal or no damage from either hurricane. Alicia Clancy, spokeswoman for Renewable Energy Group's REG Houston LLC plant, said the facility fared well through Hurricane Ike. "REG Houston had in place a detailed and well-managed hurricane preparedness plan, which they put into action as Hurricane Ike reached shoreline," she said. "All staff and their families remained safe throughout the duration of the storm." She added that the plant itself sustained little physical damage. "The REG Houston and Renewable Energy Group staff were prepared for the storm, and worked quickly and safely to return the plant to operation," she said. Biodiesel production resumed Sept. 16.

Momentum Biofuels Inc., located in the Houston suburb of League City, Texas, told Biodiesel Magazine that it was untouched by Hurricane Ike. Gregg Enders, president and chief executive officer of Momentum, said although the plant was without power, and damage couldn't be observed for several days after the hurricane hit, all was well and the company expected to be back in production soon. "Feedstock loaded on barges, despite being undamaged, is still being held by the Coast Guard," he said. "All should be normal for us pretty quickly."

On Sept. 15, as a result of Ike, the U.S. EPA issued eastern Texas with a temporary emergency waiver of a special diesel fuel requirement specific to the state and its low emission diesel (TxLED) policy. TxLED was implemented in October 2005 to help reduce air pollution from nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons in eastern Texas. It requires diesel fuel, including biodiesel blends, to meet certain criteria beyond what is required by federal law. The waiver expired Sept. 30.
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