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Salem, Oregon Biodiesel Plant May Add Lab and Campus

A Willamette Valley consortium plans to turn the areas only commercial biodiesel plant into a research and education campus.

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A Willamette Valley consortium plans to turn the area’s only commercial biodiesel plant into a research and education campus. Given the current emphasis on renewable energy and economic stimulus, backers feel the political climate is ripe to get the project moving.
Chemeketa Community College, Pacific Biodiesel Technologies and developer Wildwood Inc. submitted a proposal for $10 million in funding to Oregon’s congressional delegation. The project would be built over three years and could create 450 jobs, said Travis Henry, vice president of Wildwood.
“Construction and fabrication could easily account for 50 to 80 jobs right off the bat,” Henry said. “If you (include) architecture, engineering, surveyors, it’s easily 100 people.”
The 30,000-square-foot facility, which would be built alongside Pacific Biodiesel’s existing Salem plant, would include classrooms, small-scale test laboratories and large-scale pilot programs. Researchers hope the facility will help them identify new commercially viable biodiesel fuel sources.
The collaboration will involve Chemeketa students in every step in the process, said spokesman Greg Harris. “We see this opportunity as a unique chance to get talent developed for a growth industry,” he said.
Pacific Biodiesel currently processes used cooking oil and canola grown in eastern Oregon, along with some tallow, said Will Smith, process engineering manager.
The expansion would allow the company to use different sources, including gatropha (or jatropha, a tropical nut), grease trap oil, algae oils and water treatment wastes. “Imagine anything that’s rancid and disgusting and oily,” Smith said.
If the new fuel sources prove viable, Pacific Biodiesel could incorporate them into its existing mix. The research might also help expand the biodiesel industry elsewhere, Wildwood’s Henry said.
“If they’re able to demonstrate the technology in a pilot scale, it could attract private industry, (which) could then build a full-scale production plant somewhere else,” he said.
The educational value of the program relies on the close working relationship with Pacific Biodiesel, however, Henry said. “What makes this program so special is that you have students who are able to participate in all steps of the process,” from small-scale experimentation to pilot testing to full production. “We’re suggesting it on a specific site: the home of the only commercial-scale biodiesel facility in the Willamette Valley.”
The project could get started within weeks of securing funding, said John Miller, president of Wildwood. “Our site is more than shovel-ready in the sense that the building pad has been prepared and all the utilities have been put in,” he said. “There’s just a natural synergy between what’s there already.”
Consortium members believe they can get the funding in place to start the project in the fiscal year that starts this July. “We feel the opportunity is really ripe now,” said Chemeketa’s Harris.
“Looking at what the priorities of what the new administration seem to be, the dire circumstance of the Oregon economy and the interest in building infrastructure for the new green economy, this fits with all of that.”
Source: Daily Journal of Commerce, Portland, Oregon