The Torrance company that recently bought the former Big West refinery on Rosedale Highway said Tuesday it expects to reopen the plant by early 2022 with about 100 employees producing some 10,000 barrels per day of plant-based "renewable diesel," a fuel virtually indistinguishable from petroleum-derived diesel.
Global Clean Energy Holdings Inc. said its initial feedstock will be used cooking oil brought in primarily from Southern California. But eventually it plans to transition to using a crop called camelina, an inedible crop grown as ground cover for wheat fields in off years.
The crop is not grown in the Central Valley and probably would have to be hauled in from the Midwest. But a GCEH representative said camelina could be processed locally and some of the byproduct could be used as feed for livestock.
GCEH announced Friday it had purchased the 509-acre property from Tennessee-based Delek US Holdings for $40 million. The refinery is capable of processing 70,000 barrels per day of oil but has not run for 12 consecutive months since 2012.
The new operation would not involve processing crude oil and would take up no more than about a few acres on the property.
Renewable diesel holds several benefits. It burns more cleanly than regular diesel; it's better for cars' fuel filters than so-called biodiesel, which has to be blended with other fuels; and it comes with state and federal financial incentives designed to encourage greater use of low-carbon fuels.
ARB Inc., a subsidiary of Lake Forest-based Primoris Services Corp., has been hired to retrofit the refinery for processing renewable diesel. The job is expected to employ about 100 people, take up to 20 months and cost about $200 million.
Bay Area refinery consultant Ian Goodman said other California refiners have put used cooking oil to use making renewable diesel. He said GCEH's proposal seems to make sense from a business perspective and will likely benefit the local economy.
Not only would it reuse a site that has sat idle for years, he noted, but it would also rely on equipment that already exists at the plant.
"It’s a logical site for what they want to do with it," he said, adding that GCEH appears to be making a serious effort to begin production of renewable fuels.
Goodman also said the project's price tag — regulatory filings show the company secured $365 million in financing for the project — represents a significant investment in Kern's economy.
"That's a lot of money that's going to be spent in Bakersfield," he said. "I think it's overall a good thing for Bakersfield."
Noah Verleun, GCEH's vice president of development and regulatory affairs, said the company has spent more than 15 years focused on developing feedstocks for energy since its founding in the early 2000s.
It chose camelina because of its short growing cycle and because the crop, a distant cousin of canola, does not present adverse land-use effects, Verleun said.
He said the Rosedale Highway refinery was considered the best possible site because it contains the necessary refining equipment as well as pipelines and good connectivity to the power grid.
Plus, the existing workforce keeping the property safe have many of the skills needed to run the project, he added.
No major approvals will be required to get the plant operating, Verleun said. He noted that the company has not decided what will be done with the bulk of the plant, which at least initially will remain idle.
Alan Gettman, a former 27-year employee of the refinery who worked in operations as well as safety, said he was pleased to hear of GCEH’s plans.
“I think that would be really good to see it running in some kind of capacity,” he said. “It was a great place to work when I was there.”
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