Rentech to build renewable diesel, green power plant

By Anna Austin
Posted May 13, 2009, at 9:35 a.m. CST

Rentech Inc. recently unveiled plans to build a plant in Rialto, Calif., for the production of synthetic fuels such as renewable diesel and electric power from waste biomass feedstocks.

Rentech CEO and President Hunt Ramsbottom gave an overview of the project during a conference call May 12, and provided details of what has been accomplished to date as well as a timeline of progress for the future.

"The Rialto project is a result of the integration of the Rentech's process with a biomass gasification technology provided by SilvaGas Corp.," Ramsbottom said. "Silva's process works best with the types of urban waste feedstocks that we plan to use." Rentech has secured a long-term licensing agreement with SilvaGas for the Rialto project, and a commitment for additional licenses for other potential waste-to-energy projects.

"The key to this integration-this is a very important point-is that we have developed the conditioning and clean-up technologies that are required to integrate biomass gasification with synthetic fuels technology," Ramsbottom said. "This has been a significant barrier to entry into the renewable synthetic fuels market."

Since biomass gasification technologies are not wildly available on a commercial scale, as a first step in developing the project Rentech compiled a list of potential gasification technologies to examine which ones could meet the company's syngas requirements, according to Ramsbottom. "Over the past two years, our technological and engineering professionals have evaluated these technologies and determined that only a few gasification processes have the potential to produce high-quality syngas from a range of biomass feedstocks," he said. "Although the syngas levels they produce can be useful for power or heating applications, it still requires enhancements to achieve levels acceptable for production of high-quality synthetic fuels. The required technologies to enhance syngas levels are not commercially available."

As a result, Rentech spent several months developing its own syngas conditioning and clean-up technologies, which are currently patent-pending, Ramsbottom said.

The Rialto Renewable Energy Center will use urban woody green waste and processed sewage sludge to produce about 25,000 gallons of synthetic fuels per day and export approximately 35 megawatts of electricity, enough to power roughly 30,000 homes in the region.

Rentech has obtained an exclusive option for a site adjacent to the city wastewater treatment plant and EnerTech's Rialto Regional Biosolids Processing Facility, which will provide treated sewage sludge and biosolids under a long-term supply agreement.

Ramsbottom said due to its near-zero carbon content, he believes renewable diesel will be in high demand as California looks to meet carbon reduction requirements. He expects Rentech to sell its power under California's Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to increase electricity produced from renewable sources by at least 1 percent per year to 20 percent by 2010.

Regarding the timeline, Ramsbottom said during 2009, the company will continue advancement of development activities and complete front-end engineering and design, and will pursue major permits in 2010. "In 2011, we will complete detailed engineering, procure equipment and begin construction; in 2012, we will complete construction, commence commissioning and start up," he said.