NETTLETON – Biodiesel is better for the environment, human health and the farm economy. And now the alternative fuel will be available here in the state when the first biodiesel refinery in the region of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee begins operation this month.
“At startup we will be producing 30,000 gallons per day,” said William Tacker, one of four major investors in Biodiesel of Mississippi. “That will be available within 30 days from startup.”
The biodiesel is being made from soybeans at the former Bunge Grain Elevator in Nettleton. Tacker said the company spent $7.3 million to convert the former grain elevator into a refinery. The company has also started work on a $9-million biodiesel refinery in Marks.
Marks Mayor Dwight Barfield said his community will benefit tremendously by the influx of jobs and tax revenues from the biodiesel refinery.
“I’m very excited about not only the initial jobs at the refinery, but jobs from spinoffs businesses that are possible,” Barfield said. “We are very supportive of this project that will provide a better tax base for our community. We have high unemployment, and this development will provide much-needed jobs. We are currently applying to the Mississippi Development Authority for a $500,000 grant to help improve the road infrastructure at the Marks Industrial Park where the biodiesel refinery will be located.”
Barfield said the refinery will be located across the street from a Bunge grain elevator, one of the largest such facilities in the area, that will provide soybeans to convert into biodiesel.
Nettleton, population 1,932, is located south of Tupelo on Highway 45. Marks, population 2,100, is located northeast of Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta. Tacker said both Nettleton Mayor Brandon Presley and Mayor Barfield deserve much credit for their unstinting support of the projects.
Tacker said biodiesel has considerable environmental and health benefits: it reduces tailpipe emissions by 60%, gives vehicles 15% better gas mileage and makes diesel engines last 40% longer.
“Vehicles run on biodiesel create less pollution that can harm people`s health, particularly the health of children, and fewer greenhouse gases that can cause global warming,” Tacker said. “And, unlike petrochemical refineries, biodiesel refineries don`t produce harmful air emissions. Biodiesel of Mississippi will even be capturing rainwater off the roof to use in the plant, conserving groundwater resources in the region.”
Making biodiesel from soybeans could also give a big boost to the nation`s farm economy while lessening the nation`s dependence on foreign oil.
A barrier to market acceptance of biodiesel has been higher prices than regular diesel. But with diesel and gasoline prices at record highs, alternatives fuels are more competitive. And, Biodiesel of Mississippi is using new technology designed to cut costs dramatically.
“We have invented some new technology,” Tacker said. “Our refinery is powered by hydrogen and we use acoustical waves that double our production with the same amount of equipment. So we didn`t have to build the plant as big as we intended. We manufacture the hydrogen ourselves with a rotary burner.
“This is the first biodiesel plant in the world powered by hydrogen, giving this plant the lowest production cost in the U.S. The production reactors are German design Quad 4, Type 6 powered by hydrogen. Absolutely no one else in the world is using hydrogen to fuel a refinery, but there will be hundreds of them in a few years. But for now we are the first and only one. With us being able to power this refinery by hydrogen, we will be able to produce for same price as regular diesel.”
The equipment to manufacture the hydrogen is produced by the company APA in Greenwood owned by Billy Hopper.
“Billy Hopper is doing some radical stuff that has the potential to change the world,” Tacker said.
Hydrogen combined with natural gas fuels the refinery. Within three months Biodiesel of Mississippi plans to also be using other alternative energy fuels such as ethanol made from sawdust and wood chips to help operate the refinery. Pearson Technologies in Aberdeen is building an ethanol refinery to supply Biodiesel of Mississippi with alcohol that will be used as a catalyst in the refining process.
“Our success is due to the many people with new technology who are helping us,” Tacker said. “There is a tremendous amount of new technology out there, and a lot of it is being developed by small businesses instead of the large research institutions. There is quite a group of technical people in Mississippi involved in everything from creating ethanol from wood chips to producing hydrogen packs for trucks that will improve the efficiency of biodiesel by 50 percent.”
Tacker said the wood-to-alcohol conversion is more efficient than making ethanol from corn.
“A ton of corn makes 90 gallons of ethanol,” Tacker said. “A ton of wood chips makes 290 gallons of ethanol.”
Wood-to-ethanol plants in Mississippi could be fueled from the large numbers of pine trees in the state that were planted 15 years ago and now need thinning.
“The price is so low for these juvenile pine trees that they can`t afford to thin them,” Tacker said. “Normally when the trees are thinned, all they can sell is the log.
If you make ethanol out of it, you can use limbs, stumps, leaves – the whole bit. You get three times the tonnage out of it compared to sending the logs to a chip mill. You can even use trees that have been dead for years. If you have trees killed by a pine beetle infestation, they can be harvested and used for ethanol. The other good thing is that you can use not only pine trees, but any type of tree.”
Tacker advocates using corn to feed people and cows, and instead use wood byproducts to make ethanol and alcohol.
Tacker isn`t worried about selling the biodiesel. It will be available soon at service stations located on Highway 45 in Nettleton and Aberdeen. The biggest customer for the product is expected to be the U.S. government. The company has already contracted with a subsidiary of Tennessee Valley Authority to sell biodiesel to run peak power generators.
There has also been interest from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Postal Service and school districts.
“We already know they are going to be customers,” Tacker said. “They are wanting biodiesel. The minute we start producing, they will start buying. The U.S. Department of Health has come out with a survey showing if a child rides a diesel school bus two hours per day, they have a 60% higher chance of respiratory problems by the age of 15. Biodiesel doesn`t have the harmful emissions that cause those respiratory problems.”
Biodiesel is quickly gaining in popularity. The singer Neil Young is exclusively using biodiesel for his current tour. “Our Greendale tour is now ozone friendly,” Young said. “I plan to continue to use this government approved and regulated fuel exclusively from now on to prove that it is possible to deliver the goods anywhere in North America without using foreign oil, while being environmentally responsible.”
And Harvard University recently announced that all its diesel vehicles will be fueled with biodiesel. David Harris Jr., general manager of transportation services at Harvard, said biodiesel stood out from other alternative fuels under consideration for use at the university because it provides the largest health and environmental benefits in the most cost effective way.
The City of Nettleton has been involved in promoting the biodiesel project, and leased the plant site to the operation. That allowed the company to get up and running a year earlier than if it had to start from scratch.
Mayor Presley said the spinoff businesses that come with the plant are truly amazing.
“We have primarily a manufacturing base, but this will be an agribusiness base that will bring much needed diversity,” Presley said. “This brings in a new development producing an alternative fuel that will be a thing of the future. Through the EPA communities who ta
a proactive step toward helping the environment – and biodiesel does that -actually have the chance to be designated a ‘green community.’ You get good benefits from the federal government as far as company relocation when you can show you are a green community proactive on the environment.”
Several spin-off businesses are planned by Biodiesel of Mississippi. A soy water byproduct of the plant will be bottled by Tishomingo Spring Water. And nitrogen waste from the refinery will be reused in a cryogenics business. Tacker said with cryogenics very low temperatures can be used to treat equipment to make it last longer.
“We use a lot of nitrogen in the plant for cooling,” Tacker said. “We use it once and can`t reuse it. So we have started Cryogenics of Mississippi. If Nissan is getting 50,000 punches off a punch press, they could freeze it and get a quarter of a million punches. Everything Nascar runs today is frozen. One time treatment costs little. But nobody in the South is doing it yet.”
Cryogenics of Mississippi hopes to locate in the Megasite located in Monroe County owned by the county and the City of Aberdeen. Potential customers for the facility will include Nissan, Mercedes, BMW and Northrop Grumman. An additional cryogenic facility to be located in Marks will be designed to treat helicopter components.
Another byproduct is glycerin, which is widely used in the cosmetic industry. Biodiesel of Mississippi is also developing a portable refinery that can be used to make biodiesel from either new or used vegetable oil such discarded restaurant fryer grease.
The refinery is expected to employ 50 people by the end of 2004. The company is looking for distributors in each county of the state. For more information, call (662) 963-0029.
Tacker said portions of the profits from Biodiesel of Mississippi will be used to promote an independent think tank for individuals with technology who would not normally be considered for assistance by universities and others.
“There are a lot of brilliant people with fantastic ideas who are not receiving the respect or consideration they deserve for `thinking outside of the box,'” Tacker said. “Biodiesel of Mississippi is completely funded by individual investors and has not spent one cent of Mississippi taxpayer money.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.