Grand beginning for Louis Dreyfus biodiesel plant

by Susan Reidy
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It was an inauguration fit for a king. In I August, the small U.S. Midwestern town of Claypool, Indiana — population 305 — welcomed more than 6,000 people for the grand opening of Louis Dreyfus Commodities’ integrated soybean-based production facility, the largest of its kind in the world.

Joining in the celebration were dignitaries from the Geneva, Switzerland-based company, local and state government, including Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Opening of the $150 million facility is a good reason for such a celebration. For the small town, the 50 million-bushel soybean crushing and biodiesel production facility means a boost to the rural economy. And for the worldwide biodiesel market, it means new production capacity of 333 million liters (88 million gallons) and an increasing commitment to biofuels from a company with more than 150 years of experience in trading and processing agricultural products.

"Claypool is a strategic centerpiece for our company’s future," said Robert Louis-Dreyfus, chairman of Louis Dreyfus Commodities. "This plant affirms our century-old practice as a market innovator. We are grateful to be a partner with the state of Indiana and the local community in this new venture."

The facility started receiving soybeans in late September and was slated to be completely operational by the end of October.

Work on the Claypool project began more than five years ago, said Serge Schoen, chief executive officer of Louis Dreyfus Commodities, when the company decided to make biofuels a key part of the company’s future.

"As a leading commodities company, we always need to be looking toward the future as to what the new opportunities might be," he said during the grand opening event.

The facility is the first biodiesel plant and soybean processing facility for Louis Dreyfus in North America. In the biofuels industry, the company owns four sugar and ethanol mills in Brazil and announced plans earlier this year to buy four more mills in Brazil, making it the second largest sugarcane processor in the country. Louis Dreyfus also is building ethanol plants in Grand Junction, Iowa, U.S. and Norfolk, Nebraska, U.S.

Claypool is one of the largest biodiesel plants in the U.S., according to the National Biodiesel Board, and is significantly larger than the average plant capacity of 72 million liters (19 million gallons). Overall biodiesel production in the U.S. is expected to reach 1.1 billion liters (300 million gallons) this year.

Construction started on the project in April 2006 with Louis Dreyfus serving as its own general contractor. Claypool was selected for its access to feedstock and adequate transportation, as well as the cooperation from state, county and local officials, said Mike Mandl, Louis Dreyfus Commodities regional operations manager.

"Louis Dreyfus, for all of her experience and global know-how, could not have done this alone," reiterated Schoen during the grand opening.

Louis Dreyfus intends to utilize as many Indiana soybeans as possible. It’s estimated the facility will buy $450 million worth of soybeans from the state, and overall will process 50 million bushels.

"It makes sense from an economic standpoint to use as many Indiana soybeans as are available," Mandl said.

The facility can store 2 million bushels of soybeans on site. It is located on a Norfolk Southern rail line and can receive soybeans by both rail and truck.

The Claypool facility is unique in that it integrates soybean processing with biodiesel production. Along with biodiesel production, the plant will produce more than 1 million tonnes of soybean meal. The meal will be sold as feed protein supplement into local markets as well as the southeastern U.S., Mandl said.

A benefit of integrating crushing and biodiesel production is the ready supply of soybean oil, he said. At this point, all of the oil produced at the crushing facility will be used for biodiesel production.

"We’re not having to consistently buy oil on the open market," Mandl said. "There are numerous benefits to having the entire process take place on one site."

About 55% of the plant’s biodiesel will be sold to bulk users in Midwestern states such as Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, said Sean Martin, director of biofuels for Louis Dreyfus. The glycerin that is produced during the biodiesel conversion process will be sold to glycerin refiners, he said.

The Claypool facility will produce biodiesel 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The biodiesel process design for the facility was provided by Germanybased GEA Westfalia.

Louis Dreyfus said the plant sets a new standard for cleaner emissions and overall efficient processing. The facility has an aggressive system of dust and noise controls along with maximum energy efficiency throughout. Additionally, it uses the latest generation crushing processes that optimize the entire soybean, resulting in much less waste.