Archive for May 12, 2008

Florida Biodiesel Plants Sit Idle

LAKELAND | Purada Processing is one of just two biodiesel plants in Florida, a cutting-edge facility that can run nonstop and produce 18 million gallons of the clean-burning alternative fuel each year.

But the Lakeland plant hasn’t made a drop of biodiesel in months, despite strong demand, with officials saying they have been hobbled by the high price of oil – soybean oil, that is.

“The increase in the price of materials that it takes to produce biodiesel has made it economically unviable to produce biodiesel at a profit,” said John Kellogg, spokesman for Boston-based World Energy Alternatives, which owns Purada. “Folks are waiting for the market to change.”

Prices for soybean oil – the most common feedstock used in biodiesel production – have more than doubled in the past two years and prices for canola and palm oil also have been rising, Kellogg said.

Industry officials attribute the high cooking oil prices to demand from India and China, where consumer incomes – and diets – are improving with the countries’ economic fortunes. Speculators also have been accused of manipulating the market.

Nevertheless, Kellogg said Purada halted all biodiesel production by the end of last year and has switched to refining high-grade glycerine, a byproduct of biodiesel used in making cosmetics, soap, shampoo and other products.

Purada’s case is hardly unique.

Cooking oil prices “are affecting other producers, unfortunately,” said National Biodiesel Board spokeswoman Amber Thurlo Pearson, who estimates about two dozen U.S. plants have halted production.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that ingredients costs had stalled plans for new biodiesel plants in Southeast Asia; similar to Purada, Australian firm Natural Fuel Limited has switched from biodiesel to glycerine production.

Kellogg said Purada was fortunate to already have the capacity to refine glycerine and is able to handle 10 million pounds of the substance per year. Still, World Energy had invested millions in the plant in recent years to ramp up biodiesel production and had to make staff cuts (Kellogg declined to cite specifics) to suit its current role.

While keeping an eye on soybean oil prices, Kellogg said officials are considering a switch to cooking grease, which also can be used to make biodiesel. Both he and Pearson are confident that biodiesel production will rebound in the U.S., especially because federal energy standards call for the nation to use 500 million gallons of the fuel in 2009 and ramp up to 1 billion gallons in 2012.

Domestic production of biodiesel was already at 500 million gallons last year, double the amount from 2006, according to the Biodiesel Board.

“Our plants are ready to go,” Kellogg said. “If the markets line up right, we’ll be ready to produce immediately.”


IF. Darn those pesky countries and the desire of their populace to eat! Perhaps if we convinced them to just use lard and bacon grease instead….

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Florida Wildfires Force Evacuation of Schools

PALM BAY, Fla. — Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency Monday as dry, windy weather fueled several wildfires on Florida’s central Atlantic coast.

Crist declared a state of emergency “due to the ongoing danger of wildfires and drought conditions that continues to threaten the state of Florida.”

At least three homes were destroyed and hundreds of residents were under evacuation orders. No injuries were reported.

Bayside High and Westside Elementary schools in southern Brevard County were evacuated Monday afternoon as a nearby brushfire grew to 3,000 acres and threatened 60 homes.

WKMG-TV reported that Brevard County Fire Station 89 on DeBroodt Avenue was burning Monday afternoon. A Brevard County firefighter was also in the hospital, but it was not immediately know where or how he was hurt.

A helicopter flew overhead, dumping huge buckets of water over the flames and several fire engines were located at the schools.

The fire jumped U.S. Highway 1 and continued to move east, prompting the closure of U.S. 1 at Rocky Point Road to Valkaria Road.

The Florida Highway Patrol also shut down a 7-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in Brevard County around rush hour Monday, and it was not known when it would reopen.

“The fires have picked up in Malabar so it’s just heavy, thick black smoke and it’s right at driver level,” FHP spokeswoman Kim Miller said.

Wildfires destroyed at least one home in Malabar on Sunday, while 30-foot-high flames threatened more than 100 homes in Cocoa during a 250-acre fire, prompting several evacuations.

“It was just a few little flames and all of the sudden it took off out of nowhere,” homeowner Jerry Vitaliano told WKMG-TV.

Orlando Dominguez, chief of EMS and public information officer for Brevard County Fire Rescue, said there are more than 100 firefighters on the ground and air support also is being provided.

No injuries have been reported.

Arsonist Sought
Palm Bay police said at least nine brush fires were intentionally set on Sunday, WKMG-TV reported.

An eyewitness saw someone in a car drop something into an open field, and the fire started shortly afterward, said Ernie Dieble, an arson investigator with the Palm Bay Police Department.

A $10,000 reward was offered for information on the arsonist.

Anyone with information concerning the fires is urged to call the Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS.

30-Foot Flames Spotted
In Cocoa, 30-foot-high flames threatened more than 100 homes during a 250-acre fire, prompting several evacuations.

“I got knots in my stomach,” fire victim Pam Hales said. “My daughter cooked Mother’s Day dinner and we have not been able to eat it. We tried to eat, but nobody could eat.”

Several roads were closed in Brevard County.

State Road 524 from Cox Road to Friday Road in Cocoa remains closed. And Cox Road is closed between Pine Cone and state Road 524.

Several homes were evacuated Sunday but residents were allowed back into their homes Monday.

Daytona Fire Not Contained
About 80 miles north in Daytona Beach, a 1,000-acre fire that forced the evacuation of 500 homes late Sunday was only 20 percent contained Monday.

Firefighters have control lines cut around the fire but remained worried about the high winds that are whirling around the county.

All 500 homes in the LPGA subdivision are under a mandatory evacuation Monday. Residents will be allowed to show ID and return home if they have a special need. They will only be allowed into their homes for a short time, WKMG-TV reported.

Ray Ademski, a 68-year-old retiree, left his home with his wife and their important papers when he saw columns of smoke Sunday night around the subdivision. He hosed down the roof and turned on the sprinklers in his yard before the couple left for a hotel.

“I could feel the heat from both sides,” said Ademski, who returned by bicycle Monday to survey the damage. “The smoke was going straight into my eyes. It was terrible.”

By Monday, the skyline was free of the thick smoke that filled it the previous night, but Ademski and firefighters were wary of flare-ups in the smoldering embers.

“The weather conditions are ripe for extreme fire behavior,” Weller said. “What we’re looking at is fairly typical for this time of year in Florida, coming into the end of the dry season.”

Residents in the area are again being warned of more possible evacuations Monday.


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