Walking into the Batchelder Biodiesel facility, it doesn’t look like much of a bustling business. It’s essentially one large room with a bunch of thousand-gallon tanks, old barrels and one employee. But it’s doing a heck of a lot better than many of the fancy, multi-million gallon operations common in the mid-west.
Earlier this week, I visited BBR to find out how the company is fairing. Before I went there, I figured they weren’t doing so well. Two thirds of biodiesel facilities in the U.S. are sitting unused today. We keep hearing horror stories about companies going bankrupt, investors trying to refinance and expansion plans being put on hold, so I was expecting to find a business on the brink of failure. But that certainly wasn’t the case.
So why isn’t BBR hurting like so many others? In large part because it uses waste grease as a feedstock, not grain. The company has also streamlined its operations to minimize processing and transporting the grease, making it lean and mean. ::continue::
“We have one supplier of the filtered grease, we process it and make it into fuel, and we sell it to one distributor,” said Chris Langille, a founding member of the company. “It really is perfect for us. It simplifies everything.”
By cutting the fat out, BBR can produce over 1,000 gallons of biodiesel a day with very low operating costs.
On the other hand, Soy-based biodiesel producers often cultivate, transport and process the feedstock themselves, adding significant cost to operations. Since the price of oil has dropped, it has become cost prohibitive for many of these refineries to turn the soy into biodiesel. Instead, they’re opting to use it for animal feed. That has caused many plants to shut down, to the chagrin of investors.
“That’s a feedstock that we don’t have to worry about. So our general overhead is already minimal,” said Langille.
Chris Langille admires the 300,000 gallon-per-year BBR facility.
Langille, his father and the Batchelder family started the company three years ago. They aren’t profitable yet, but he says they are well on their way.
Things aren’t perfect though. BBR could easily double production, but they need more money to do so. They also have plans to build out a couple more facilities around the New England area. They’ll need more money to do that too. Investors aren’t the easiest thing to come by in the biofuels space these days, said Langille.
“I’d say our hardest challenge isn’t technical, it’s finding investors. It is hard to find people who are willing to fund start-up biodiesel plants, especially when you hear of so many of them failing. But with our unique business plan…it will eventually be attractive to some people,” he said.
For now, BBR is cruising along, despite the terrible year that other grain-based biodiesel producers have had. The company’s story (which is similar to many other smaller grease-based producers) is a welcome change to the bad news we’ve been hearing lately.
To hear an interview with Langille, listen to this week’s Inside Renewable Energy podcast. We’ll also have a conversation with Wall Street Journal Reporter Ann Davis about her latest article, “U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty.”