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8/19/2004

Berthoud biodiesel company opens

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

BERTHOUD — Long a fan of renewable energies and alternative fuels, U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard showed up to welcome a new Berthoud company to an industry with huge potential.

“Your success, I think, will send a message to the rest of the country,” said Allard. “The day is here, and the day is here when it can happen without government subsidies.”

Increasing the amount of biodiesel used in Colorado is one of the goals of Rocky Mountain Biodiesel Industries, which held its grand opening Wednesday in Berthoud.

The company’s managers say the plant will be able to produce up to 3 million gallons of biodiesel fuel per year.

“We’re hoping we can double the biodiesel consumption in Colorado from about 1 million gallons per year to 2 million gallons,” said Greg Weeks, operations manager for the new five-person company.

Biodiesel is an organically produced form of diesel fuel that can be made from different ingredients. In the case of the Rocky Mountain plant, the majority of the fuel will be manufactured from so-called waste oils — such as the used oil from the deep fryers of restaurants. Animal by-products can also be used as “feed stock” for the fuel.

Rocky Mountain is the first biodiesel production facility in Colorado. The company’s biodiesel product will be distributed in Colorado by AgLand Inc.

As part of its agreement with its parent company, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Biodiesel Industries Inc., Rocky Mountain will potentially have the ability to distribute biodiesel throughout a multi-state region.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that sales of biodiesel nationally could reach about 2 billion gallons annually, or about 8 percent of conventional highway diesel fuel consumption.

The fuel is said to be cleaner-burning than petroleum-based diesel, and also biodegradable.

Currently, the price for biodiesel is slightly higher than for regular diesel, but that hasn’t stopped some from converting to its usage, including the city of Boulder and the city and county of Denver.

The 3 million gallons annually produced by Rocky Mountain will be what’s known as “B100,” or product that is 100 percent biodiesel. The most common form used in vehicles is B20, which is a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.

“We believe in alternative fuels,” said Dave Freeman, marketing manager for AgLand. “I think there is an agronomic opportunity. We want to try to develop that.”

A Longmont resident with a background in the petroleum industry, Weeks began exploring the renewable fuels industry some years ago and later discovered Biodiesel Industries.

After researching the company he was impressed by its technology and the fact that it had built a successful biodiesel production facility at, among other places, the naval base in Ventura County in California.

Weeks and three partners, including James Weber, Rocky Mountain’s manager of finance, signed an agreement with the parent company and are the financial backers behind the Berthoud operation.

Down the road, Weeks said, he and his partners hope to eventually expand and open other production facilities in Colorado.

“Colorado burns about 1 million gallons of biodiesel per year and virtually all of it comes from Iowa,” said Weeks.

He also made a note Wednesday to point out that he and his partners had backed the new company entirely by themselves.

“What’s exciting about this project is they didn’t come to the government with their hand out saying, ‘We need money to get started,’” Allard told those gathered for the grand opening.

Allard, a founder of Congress’ renewable energy caucus, said he was pleased to see anything that could help the United States lessen its dependence on foreign oil.

“I think the thing to remember here is each year, we’re becoming more and more dependent on foreign fuel,” Allard said. “This company, in my view, is a tiny step, a very important step, toward using more biofuels.”

According to Derald Stanley, feed stock supervisor for Rocky Mountain, the company currently gets all of its raw material from area restaurants, including more than two dozen McDonald’s and the Chili’s restaurants in Longmont and Loveland.

“Right now, we need the feed stock so we’re pretty much picking it up for free,” said Stanley. “We’re actively seeking clients.”

Weeks said that he hopes to have the Berthoud facility up to its maximum production capacity within the next 60 days.