Biodiesel Forges A Path To Prosperity

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Written by Tyson Keever, general manager, SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel

In a global economy the elements for creating products can be complex and far-reaching: Raw materials, labour and manufacturing can all be outsourced or off-shored, and even the markets for goods can be distant. In contrast, SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel is a closed-loop business, meaning we draw our raw material — used cooking oil — from the same region where we sell our products, primarily biodiesel that fuels delivery vehicles and school buses as well as individual motor cars.

Gas pumps.
Image Credit: Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock.

For those of us in the alternative fuel industry, what motivated us when we started is what motivates us today. My partners and I wanted to provide Oregonians with an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels while also building a business that would grow over time and provide jobs in the region. This year we celebrated our 20 millionth gallon of fuel produced and are approaching 100 employees.

Recently we closed another loop, as we signed a contract to recycle cooking oil from the concession stands operated by the University of Oregon Athletics department. When I was exploring the potential opportunities in the biodiesel industry, just over 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to do so through the University of Oregon entrepreneurial incubator project. The Riverfront Innovation Center provided me with the facility, resources and time needed to research how to take the concept of locally produced biodiesel to the reality of SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel as a viable, profitable business. Our first and primary refueling station is in Eugene, just a few miles down the road from the U of O campus.

Where we were

As a business major vetting a business model, I liked the way the numbers added up. On the supply side, restaurant owners were paying to have cooking oil disposed of, as trash. On the demand side, motorists and delivery fleets were paying the owners of petroleum wells in distant countries to send them fuel from thousands of miles away.

As an Oregonian, I liked the way the numbers played out in the world around me. Biodiesel made from used cooking oil is significantly cleaner than petroleum diesel, emitting up to 78 percent less carbon dioxide and other harmful gases. Like a growing number of people, I was interested in keeping pollution out of the air, waste out of the landfills, and energy dollars closer to home.

As in high-tech and craft brewing, two other industries dear to Oregonian’s hearts, early adopters came out of the woodwork, and their support and enthusiasm helped us refine our product. By 2004 we were able to launch SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel LLC, a joint venture with of Maui, Hawaii. We established the first commercial biodiesel production facility in Oregon, only the second commercial biodiesel production facility in the Pacific Northwest. We were squatting in a gas station on Highway 30 in Portland, but we could see a promising future ahead and were able to hire our first employee.

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Where we are today

We have hubs in Seattle, Portland, Salem, and Spokane, and serve the surrounding areas to cover the entire region. Our nearly 100 employees in these markets pick up used cooking oil from local suppliers or refine the oil at our plant in Salem or distribute it to our customers throughout Washington, Idaho, Oregon and soon northern California. These jobs would not exist if the valuable resource of used cooking oil were getting buried away in the ground.

Our biodiesel is made from used cooking oil in the Pacific Northwest. We have more than 7,000 suppliers throughout the region including businesses, schools, restaurants and hospitals. There is no cost for restaurants to recycle their oil with us. In fact, some on our customers may be eligible for rebates for every gallon of oil we collect.

SeQuential Pacific is fortunate to work with other Oregon businesses that share our passion for sustainability, including Burgerville, New Seasons Market, Nike, Safeway, Roth’s Fresh Market and McMenamins. Some are suppliers, some are customers, and some are both.

This sequence — food first, then fuel — is essential to our business model. We do not want to be part of a different problem, mowing down forests for agriculture or laying claim to crops that could feed people. Used cooking oil is a raw material (in energy production, we call it feedstock), but it’s not so-called virgin material. Just as Schnitzer Steel can make new rebar out of old girders and Nike can make a sharp-looking football shirt out of spent plastic bottles, our biodiesel is primarily a second-use product: It gives used cooking oil new life and provides added value as a fuel and even down to further byproducts. SeQuential Pacific sells glycerin and the industrial oil referred to as boiler fuel oil to local distributors. We also make a fertilizer from our purification cake and a high-nutrient water digester feed.

What’s in store for the future

For us as a company and the industry as a whole, biodiesel has the potential to change the way the United States views energy, its relationship to fossil fuels and the countries the U.S. chooses to do business with. Perhaps more importantly, it can transform how consumers view their role in energy consumption and production. A school district that wants to improve the air quality for students, for example, doesn’t have to buy new buses to run a new kind of fuel — it can run biodiesel in the diesel engines it already owns.

Biofuel is not the only answer to local prosperity, sustainability and self-reliance, but, like second-use steel and second-use plastic, a step in the right direction. The smartest technologies deliver multiple benefits to multiple interests. SeQuential Pacific strives to stay focused on the triple bottom line of people, profits and planet: better environmental and therefore better human health; an improved economy, with dollars circulating locally instead of far away.

The alternative fuels industry has provided more opportunities and a faster evolution than any of us could have dreamed of a decade ago.  As we look ahead to the next 10-20 years, we are eager to expand our business model to other communities around the west, and we look forward to other counterparts closing the loop in other Oregon industries. And if you enjoy a burger and fries in Autzen Stadium this fall, you’ll be part of that loop too.

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