Branching Out

Aemetis’ refinery will produce renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel from almond orchard and forest wood waste, which will also yield a negative carbon sugar source for ethanol. The Keyes, California, plant is also ditching fossil-based power.

Eric McAfee, CEO of Aemetis, says the markets for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and renewable diesel are strong. The diesel market—and by association, the renewable diesel buildout—continued to gain momentum during the pandemic, with brisk trucking volume tied to the booming and irreversible phenomenon of consumer goods home delivery. “Renewable diesel is in high demand. Aviation fuels likewise,” he says. “It’s a 79 billion gallon market worldwide.”

And that’s good news for the company, as progress on its Carbon Zero One plant, a renewable diesel and SAF (i.e., biojet fuel) refinery continues. “We already announced the engineering for the process phase, and the engineer for the construction phase is next,” McAfee says, explaining that engineering and permitting work will continue as project financing is finalized before construction. “We’re at the end of the development phase.”

The plant will use almond orchard waste, as well as forest waste wood, from California, which McAfee says will help keep the plant’s carbon intensity (CI) score low. The unique feedstock also ends up being a benefit for Aemetis’ corn ethanol plant in Keyes, California, as sugar from the renewable diesel plant’s waste wood will be extracted for use in producing ethanol.

“If you can take sugar from a carbon negative 100 waste wood, and you have positive 50 carbon intensity sugar that comes from corn, which one are you going to make more money on, the corn or the waste wood?” McAfee says. “Then factor on top of that the waste wood is very low cost. It’s one tenth the cost of the sugar.” He adds that with the cost savings on the feedstock, and the premiums received from California’s LCFS, every 10 percent of production that uses the waste orchard wood as a feedstock generates $30 million. “That’s linear, so 20 percent is $60 million, 30 percent is $90 million, and 100 percent is $300 million. That doesn’t fade as you get more feedstock.” Those returns are possible because the feedstock is carbon negative.”

– Ethanol Producer Magazine, Matt Thompson

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