St. Charles Parish biodiesel plant reaches capacity in startup

A St. Charles Parish refinery that converts animal fat, used cooking oil and other waste grease into diesel fuel has reached capacity in its startup phase and will be tweaked to improve the plant’s long-term reliability, the plant’s operator said Tuesday.

Diamond Green Diesel, a joint venture between Darling International Inc. and Valero Energy Corp., said its plant in Norco, which was started in June, has reached continuous production of about 9,300 barrels per day of biodiesel.

However, Diamond Green determined that a heat exchanger must be replaced to improve the plant’s reliability under actual process conditions.

Diamond Green will continue to operate during the replacement of the heat exchanger, which is expected to be completed by mid-October, but production rates will be lowered to about 5,000-7,000 barrels per day until then.

Diamond Green’s website says it expects to convert about 1.1 billion pounds of fat and restaurant grease into 137 million gallons of green diesel per year — an estimated 9,300 barrels per day.

At that rate, the company would be converting up to 11 percent of the country’s animal fat and used cooking oil into a fuel that has the same properties as petroleum diesel.

The project follows two years of planning and development after the U.S. Department of Energy said it would back a $241 million loan guarantee to help build the plant, which the agency said would create about 60 jobs.

Darling International Inc. of Irving, Texas, supplies the feedstock for the plant. The company recycles beef, poultry and pork by-products into useable ingredients such as tallow, feed-grade fats, meat and bone meal, poultry meal and hides. The company also recovers and converts used cooking oil and commercial bakery residuals into feed and fuel ingredients.

The Diamond Green facility is adjacent to Valero’s St. Charles refinery, which is connected to a major pipeline.

In its conversion process, Diamond Green Diesel will meet specifications as a biodegradable additive to be mixed into Valero’s general diesel fuel supply, allowing it to meet government mandates for biodiesel fuel.

The Energy Department previously estimated the alternative fuel will have 80 percent less greenhouse gases than conventional diesel and could fulfill almost 14 percent of a federal mandate aimed at boosting production of biomass diesel.