OJ plant to deliver new crop: biodiesel
An unused factory in Pasco will convert chicken fat and plant oils into fuel.
By JODIE TILLMAN
Published February 13, 2007
DADE CITY - Orange juice once coursed through this factory's stainless steel veins. Now in its place comes a new kind of juice: biodiesel.
Over the next two weeks, Pensacola-based Agri-Source Fuels will start production of the clean-burning alternative fuel in a 60,000-square-foot space at Dade City Business Park, which is in the shuttered Pasco Beverage citrus factory.
The plan: Convert chicken fat hauled in from Georgia and Alabama and palm and cottonseed oils shipped from South America into as many as 125-million gallons of the alternative fuel a year.
That production capacity - made possible by the 5.6-million gallons of storage left from the old juice operation - will be the largest in the nation.
"We're ready to go," said Rick Higdon, a Pensacola real estate developer who owns Agri-Source. "I'm very excited."
So far, Agri-Source, which is financing the project, is negotiating with distributors, who would blend the biofuel with petroleum diesel and sell it on the market, said plant manager Jeff Sims.
About 50 people are busy cleaning up the site, including aiming high-pressure water hoses on smelly juice residue still in the tanks, and reconfiguring some parts, said Sims.
There is also a biodiesel production plant in Lakeland, Purada Processing, which produces about 18-million gallons a year from soybean oil, according to the National Biodiesel Board.
Dade City's plant has attracted attention from the state, including Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Jay Levenstein.
Levenstein said he was pleased that the state could have its own supply of biodiesel, a much cleaner and environmentally safer fuel than petroleum diesel. Diesel powers such vehicles as boats, trucks and buses as well as heavy construction equipment.
"From a fuel standpoint, it's wonderful," he said. "It's needed."
There has been talk of mandating that a certain percentage of the state's fleet use alternative fuels. In the last year, some state divisions, including the Division of Forestry, decided to use biodiesel in some of its vehicles and equipment.
So far, said Levenstein, officials have been pleased with the results.
National Biodiesel Board spokeswoman Amber Thurlo Pearson confirmed that a production capacity of 125-million gallons a year would make the Dade City plant the largest in the country.
Agri-Source honed in on Dade City almost by accident. About two months ago, Higdon's plant manager, Jeff Sims, was hunting for tanks and parts for the Pensacola factory under construction.
He traveled to Dade City, the hometown of his mother and stepfather, who once worked for the citrus plant. The Pasco Beverage facility was once owned and run by the Lykes Bros. family conglomerate of Tampa.
Sims found the plant converted into the Dade City Business Park and its old stainless steels tanks slated to be sold for scrap.
"I was just looking for tanks to take back to Pensacola," recalled Sims. "I told Rick, 'You're not going to believe what they're planning to cut up down here.' "Jodie Tillman can be reached at 727869-6247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
Biodiesel in the United States
As of January 2007:
105 Number of biodiesel companies in the United States
864-mil. Annual production capacity, in gallons per year
Source: National Biodiesel Board
[Last modified February 13, 2007, 06:20:19]
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