Promethean Biofuels Co-op up and running after weekend fire

By Erin Voegele | March 15, 2012

California-based Promethean Biofuels Co-op Corp. is back up and running after a weekend fire damaged the facility. Information released by local authorities noted that the spontaneous combustion of improperly disposed of oily rags was determined to be the cause of the March 11 incident. The report also stated that the fire was contained to a piece of machinery and a 55-gallon barrel of an unknown substance. No injuries were reported.

According to Promethean Biofuels’ President and founder Todd Hill, damage to the facility was minimized due to emergency planning that was already in place. Hill noted that the facility underwent a 22-month permitting, 24-month construction process. During that time, he said, a great deal of attention was paid to safety and fire prevention. The plant has also been working towards ISO-9000, ISO-14,000 and BQ-9000 certifications.

The fire was due to a human error, not equipment malfunction. According to Hill, Promethean Biofuels’ process for disposing of rags—which are a common cause of plant fires—is to place them in water and contain them within a tank. “We do the same with our filters,” he added. The facility operates on a six-day schedule, Monday through Saturday. When the facility shut down early last Saturday, the rags in question were not properly contained, Hill said.

Hill also noted that the fire was largely contained by two sprinklers that were installed as a safety measure. However, the building was filled with smoke. When the local fire department reached the scene they entered from the front and began to spray the building down. They also cut a door into the back of the facility and followed the same procedure.

The facility itself was designed to be a zero-discharge facility, as it operates next to a protected creek. According to Hill, the fire department pushed the water out of the building, which did cause some contamination. However, the company has been working with the proper authorities to remediate the issue, and has already made great progress.

The plant was once again operational within 24 hours of the fire. Hill said he hopes Promethean Biofuels’ experience will serve as a learning opportunity for other biodiesel producers. He stresses that a plant can never be too prepared for such an incident. While in hindsight the emergency planning worked as designed, Hill also noted that there is always room for improvement. For example, he said it is important to have very good communication with your local fire department. It would also be extremely helpful, he said, to invite the local authorities into your facility periodically so they can familiarize themselves with the plant and its operations. 

 

 
 
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