Behind the scenes look at Georgia biodiesel plant

Guest Blog | September 9, 2011 | Clean Transportation, Energy Policy

The following blog post was written by Claire Pendergrast, SACE summer intern (Atlanta office).  I wish her all the best at Dartmouth this Fall and beyond.

To round out the final days of my summer internship with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), I had the opportunity to tour Down to Earth Energy’s (DTE) biodiesel production facilities in Monroe, Georgia (about 40 miles east of Atlanta). This is one of many awesome things I’ve done over the course of the summer, but this may have been my favorite outing.

Down to Earth Energy Biodiesel Production Facility, Monroe, Georgia
Down to Earth Energy Biodiesel Production Facility, Monroe, Georgia

Clean Energy Biofuels (CEB), SACE’s waste grease to biodiesel operation, is partnered with DTE to produce biodiesel from waste grease from Atlanta area restaurants and businesses. If you haven’t heard about these two cool ventures, you are way out of the loop. Fear not, I’ll fill you in.

CEB and DTE convert waste grease from restaurants around Georgia into biodiesel, which is used to fuel both on and off-road vehicles and fleets. This operation is the only waste to grease biodiesel production facility in Georgia making them a clean and local fuel source for Georgia vehicles. Not only that, through this partnership, CEB and DTF have been able to withstand the waivering economy and government support over the last few years continuing to provide a cleaner-burning fuel to fleets and the public around Atlanta.  With the grease collection operations provided by CEB and production by DTE, approximately 500,000 gallons of biodiesel are produced annually.

SACE intern Claire Pendergrast and attorney Craig Pendergrast listen to McKay Johnson describe the operation

Biodiesel has many benefits, both for the environment and the economy. It is made from renewable, domestic resources, and its use decreases our dependence on foreign oil. It also has lower emissions than petroleum diesel, is 100% non-toxic and completely biodegradable. A U.S. Department of Energy study shows that use of biodiesel, compared to petroleum diesel, results in a 78.5% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2).  Biodiesel works with all diesel engines, so it requires no additional infrastructure or special equipment. Switching to biodiesel is a quick and simple way diesel vehicles can transition into a cleaner burning fleet. They currently fuel various fleets around Atlanta, including Whole Foods’ trucks. The fuel is also available for purchase by the public out of their operations in Monroe .

DTE’s production facility in Monroe, Georgia is a surprising mix of the rustic and the hi-tech. The tanks and pumps are stored in a tall, open-sided wooden structure with a simple tin roof that looks like it could have been a hay-barn in another life. DTE’s operations can handle multiple feedstocks, so if other feedstocks become available and more affordable in the future, they can adjust their operations accordingly.  This flexibility also allows them to better withstand the economic roller coaster of today.

Solar energy powers the biodiesel operation
Solar energy powers the biodiesel operation

What’s even more exciting than their production of biodiesel is that the beautiful grassy field surrounding the production facility is covered with 130kW of bright, shiny new solar panels that put Georgia’s blaring sun to use by generating electricity to power the operations. The electricity not used is sold back to the grid, displacing coal-generated electricity and helping pay for the cost of installing the solar panels. It is truly a shining example of sustainability in Georgia.  The facility has received two federal Renewable Energy for America (REAP) grants to support its operations.  One for biodiesel production and the other was provided for the solar array.

For more on the operations, check out SACE’s website and Down to Earth’s website.

On a personal note, this tour was the perfect end to my summer at SACE. I’ve had so many opportunities this summer to see behind the scenes of the environmental community, and what I’d imagined to be a pretty simple idea—not messing up the earth—has turned out to have many more facets than I imagined. I’ve seen the politics, business, and science that play a part of every environmental problem and solution. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to learn about and work on environmental policy, education, and outreach that will bring the south closer to achieving cleaner energy and a greener future. But one thing has been constant between all these different groups and focuses—everywhere there are smart, dedicated people who are attacking the problem of clean energy from their own particular angle. These people do the work they do because they feel a responsibility towards their environment and generations like my own who, believe me, will have plenty of environmental problems to address without having to deal with the consequences of the past’s energy choices. So I want to thank Down to Earth Energy for their solar panels and their commitment to generating clean, local energy sources. I want to thank SACE and their partners for continuing to work for better clean energy policies and projects. I know the Southeast will be in good hands while I’m off at college in the north, and I’ll study extra hard so that when I come back home, hopefully I’ll be able to contribute to the solution and bring the south a bit closer to the clean future we all hope will become a reality.

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