SunPower Biodiesel restarts operations, plans expansion

By Erin Voegele | June 08, 2011

Cumberland, Wis.-based SunPower Biodiesel has officially restarted operations. The facility, which was first commissioned in 2008, held a grand opening ceremony May 26. The event featured a ribbon cutting ceremony with local politicians, facility tours and an educational seminar.

According to SunPower Coordinator Herb Blaser, approximately 250 people attended the festivities, including several area students. The educational workshop was open to the public, said Jamie Helgeson, a SunPower spokeswoman. This included students enrolled in natural resources and agricultural classes. Those who attended the workshop not only viewed a PowerPoint presentation, Helgeson continued, they were also able to see a small batch of biodiesel being produced.

Work on the 3 MMgy SunPower Biodiesel plant originally began in 2006, and the plant was legally commissioned in 2008, said Blaser. After being idled for a period of time, the facility is once again operating at full capacity. According to Blaser, plans are underway to increase the nameplate capacity of the plant to 5 MMgy by the close of 2011. “The four-year plan is to get to 15 million,” he continued.

The continuous flow plant takes in canola oil as its primary feedstock, which Blaser said results in a fuel with superior cold flow properties. One of the greatest difficulties the company faces is in convincing local farmers to grow canola feedstock for the plant. To help mitigate that problem and prove to farmers canola cultivation is a good investment, the owners of SunPower have established a sister company—DRM Farms—that currently cultivates approximately 6,000 acres of canola. “We found that we have to prove to farmers that it’s a working product,” Blaser said. “It has about half the inputs of soybeans and the cash value of it is comparable to soybeans when all is said and done.”  Blaser notes that DRM Farms is moving forward with expansion plans, with a goal of having 10,000 acres of canola planted next year.

SunPower has also vertically integrated its operations in other ways. The company owns and operates its own seed crushing facility and has even established onsite retail operations. “We put in our own fueling station outside of our plant here,” Blaser said. “We opened that three months ago, and our sales have doubled [in each of those] three months.” The station currently sells B11, B20 and B99 blends of biodiesel. “B99 is the most popular because we are 25 cents under the pump price for B99,” Blaser added. 


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