Vegetable oil to diesel: Local plant will produce clean, renewable fuel

KOLO 8 News Now's Ed Pearce reports on a new technique to turn plants into diesel fuel.
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 6:12 PM PDT
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TAHOE RENO INDUSTRIAL CENTER, Nev. (KOLO) -The future of transportation may be electric, but there are millions of vehicles on the road today that burn fuel and will continue for the foreseeable future.

That includes the diesel-burning trucks that drive our economy and a fair number of passenger vehicles as well. Our transition to a green energy future will be easier and the planet healthier if they are burning a clean renewable fuel.

That day may soon be here.

East of town on a hillside above the Truckee Canyon, workers are finishing the retrofit of a plant that, its owner says, will produce that fuel of the future.

“There is a big difference here,” says Randy Soule of New Rise Renewables. “Because here, when we make the diesel fuel, we’ve actually made the molecular chain that is a C-16 diesel fuel.”

This plant was originally built to turn today’s petroleum-based diesel fuel into cleaner biodiesel. It’s being adapted to produce something else again.

“We are actually taking it and putting it from a full refining process and making it into the actual diesel fuel molecule.”

It is, of course, a complicated process.

It helps simply to think of this plant as a refinery whose crude oil is the unrefined version of the vegetable cooking oil in your kitchen, drawn from one of a variety of crops. Soule says corn, soy oils, palm oils, and anything that is a plant-based oil can be broken down into these molecules.

The resulting fuel has essentially the same chemical makeup as today’s diesel minus the elements that create the emissions that are driving climate change. Today’s diesel engines can burn it without any modification.

“You will notice no difference at all other than probably a bit more power out of the engine and you’re going to have a cleaner emission from the engine.”

And Soule says it will be competitively priced at the pump.

“That is due to some of the government subsidy programs that help us to go ahead and produce the product and then for the retailer to sell it for a competitive price at the pump.”

When it comes online early next year, the refinery will employ a staff of 65 and they will begin producing an estimated 44 million gallons a year while saving 880 million pounds of carbon emissions.

“Nevada first led the solar revolution,” says Soule. “Now we will hopefully lead renewable fuel.”

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