CLEVELAND (AP) - The opening of a large-scale biodiesel plant in northeast Ohio will lead to a greater supply of cleaner burning fuel and, city officials say, cheaper prices.
Commercial production at Center Alternative Energy Co. is expected to begin within two weeks, deriving biodiesel from soybean oil, said John Samsel, the company's president.
Biodiesel burns cleaner than traditional diesel and also provides extra lubrication that makes an engine run more smoothly.
Center Alternative Energy, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Center Oil Co., will produce the biodiesel fuel in a storage terminal along the Cuyahoga River near downtown, refining soybean
oil and blending it with traditional petroleum-based diesel, Samsel said.
The company also considered terminal sites in Madison, Wis., and Chillicothe, Ill.
Cleveland was selected because of its rail access, proximity to Lake Erie and a significant volume of diesel customers in the area, Samsel said.
Only a handful of retail locations sell biodiesel in northeast Ohio, said John McGovern, director of the Northeast Ohio Clean Fuels Program, part of the Earth Day Coalition. The key will be
finding distributors who want to carry it.
Most customers desire a blend that includes from 5 percent to 20 percent biodiesel.
Samsel said he envisions most of his blends being sold to private vehicle fleets, but retail stations may also want some.
The city of Cleveland will use a 5 percent biodiesel blend in 10 to 15 percent of its diesel fleet starting May 1, said Andrew Watterson, Cleveland's sustainability manager. A six-month
monitoring program will test emissions and engine performance in 15 of those vehicles.
City officials are hoping to see reduced particulate emissions and no change in the amount of nitrogen oxide released in the exhaust, Watterson said. Also, the friction-reducing quality of
biodiesel should help protect engines from the harshness of ultra-low-sulfur diesel used by the city.
To make its biodiesel, Center Alternative Energy mixes soybean oil with sodium methylate, a catalyst that promotes a chemical reaction. Methanol also is added to sustain the reaction. As a
result, the bonds between hydrogen and carbon molecules are broken, Samsel said, which causes the liquid to divide into an organic compound - which is the biodiesel - and glycerol.
The two are separated in a centrifuge and further refined. The biodiesel is then ready to be blended. The glycerol can be sold for fuel or for pharmaceutical uses such as hand creams and lotions.