BY CHRIS TRACZEK
An energy company in Pennsylvania, Independence Biofuels Inc., is helping the nation move closer to energy security by opening a state-of-the-art injection facility featuring biofuels in Highspire, Pa.
Worley & Obetz, Inc., established in 1946, has become the largest family-owned energy company in Lancaster County and has become the sole user of Independence BioFuels’ product line, AmeriGreen BioFuels. More important, Worley & Obetz has taken a strong position on renewable, cleaner, environmentally conscious resources such as biofuels, so strongly, in fact, that they are the first customer of Independence BioFuels that will create an injection facility designed for other companies throughout the East Coast to purchase biofuels.
“We believe in the product, and remain completely committed to what it stands for in our industry, the environment and our country,” said Jeff Lyons, Worley & Obetz CEO president.
Five years ago, Lyons began researching the market for renewable resources in hopes of finding a product that would fit the evolving market of Worley & Obetz: residential heating oil customers.
“No matter how I looked at it, biofuels was the answer, a fuel to our future,” said Lyons.
Biofuel is defined as a blend of biodiesel (B100) with petroleum distillate that can include products such as low-sulfur on-road diesel, red-dyed low-sulfur diesel, off-road diesel and heating oil. Biodiesel is a domestic, renewable fuel derived from refined natural oils like soybean oil that meet the specifications of ASTM D 6751. Biodiesel can be used in any concentration with any petroleum-based distillates with little or no modification to the vehicle or heating system.
However, biodiesel is not the same thing as raw vegetable oil. It is produced by a chemical process, transesterfication, that removes the glycerin from the oil. When using biofuels became the answer to the environmental focus of the company, Lyons investigated to find other companies in the area who would willingly work with the product.
Beginning in 2002, High Steel Structures, the largest steel bridge fabricator in North America, agreed to use B20 biodiesel (20 percent soy biofuel, 80 percent petroleum diesel) for use in its off-road machinery. Through three winters, High Steel reported success with this renewable resource. Since their commitment to biodiesel in 2002, High Steel Structures has supported the renewable resource and the beneficial characteristics it carries for machinery engines.
While High Steel Structures utilized the biodiesel in its off-road machinery, Worley & Obetz sought an additional company, H.M. Stauffer, to use bioheat in its oil-fired heating systems, also in a B20 blend. In the past three years, H.M. Stauffer, a lumber fabrication plant in Leola, Pa., has committed to continuing the usage of bioheat due to the overwhelming success it’s earned.
Finding success with High Steel Structures and H.M. Stauffer, Worley & Obetz sought an advocate to specifically take the renewable resource to the road. Wenger Feed Mill, one of the largest agricultural feed and service companies on the East Coast, agreed to begin fueling with on-road biodiesel in the summer of 2004. Beginning in June of last year, Wenger Feed committed to fueling four of its transport vehicles with B10 biodiesel.
“In order to support the need of fueling Wenger’s biodiesel fleet, we needed to build an infrastructure to support it,” said Brian Gerhart, vice president of wholesale at Worley & Obetz, Inc. “Our vision of that infrastructure was opening a retail biodiesel fueling station for our customers. We knew, at the very least, we would have one customer (Wenger Feed Mill). We wanted to anticipate for more than that, but couldn’t predict the outcome of the results we received.”
June 28, 2004, marked an historical first for Worley & Obetz and Pennsylvania, when a retail B10 biodiesel fueling site at one of their card-lock stations in Manheim was opened. Since that day, the word and demand for the renewable fuel has spread across Pennsylvania due to the uniqueness and benefit of the product.
“It’s of no surprise to me now, to see customers from as far as Philadelphia or Altoona driving to our biodiesel station any given Saturday to refuel their diesel Jetta for the week. We believed in the product for years, but didn’t realize how many others shared that vision,” said Gerhart.
Due to the enormous response and increasing demand for the product, Worley & Obetz has since converted three additional card-lock stations across Lancaster County to supply B10 biodiesel and plans to continue converting their other four various locations throughout the county.
After the grand opening at their station in Manheim, the Worley & Obetz team took the optimistic response and demand from the customers and considered delivering bioheat to all customers in their residential heating oil division. When fall hit in 2004, Worley & Obetz made history again in completing the first-known Pennsylvania delivery of B3 bioheat into a customer’s home heating system. This event also included several dignitaries and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty, who helped kick off the ceremony on Oct. 14, 2004, at a Lancaster resident’s home.
“With rising imported fuel prices and recent record-high oil and natural gas prices, opportunities abound to explore new energy technologies,” Secretary McGinty said. “Products like Worley & Obetz’s bio-blended home heating oil are helping to distinguish our Commonwealth as a leader in the development and deployment of advanced energy technology. The ability to deliver affordable, clean energy ensures the highest standards of environmental protection while stimulating our economy, and contributing to our national security through the development and use of these indigenous resources.”
Following the bioheat event, the retail-heating department at Worley & Obetz saw an increase in new customers that overshadowed any other marketing efforts thus far. Still, the demand for the product has not lessoned with time, but only grown. The number of customers using biofuels continued to grow when Worley & Obetz began serving an additional 4,000 customers with B3 bioheat on April 1 in northern Lancaster County; by the end of 2005 Worley & Obetz will serve over 10,000 customers with AmeriGreen biofuels.
As the Worley & Obetz team examined the increasing demand for this product for the expanding number of customers, they again needed to reevaluate the infrastructure to support what they believe to be one of the best innovations of agriculture, domestic resources and energy efficiency. To keep up with the need for biofuels, Worley & Obetz purchased biofuels from as far away as Florida, Kentucky, Iowa and Ohio. The team evaluated the possibility of having biofuel availability closer to home. In doing so, they hoped to find a terminal specifically designed for biofuels, not just for Worley & Obetz but also for any other able company that also wanted to distribute this renewable resource to their own customers.
“At this point, we’re not competing with other companies,” said Lyons. “It’s not about doing things first, but more so doing things right.”
He wants to see his company’s use of this product mirrored elsewhere in the East Coast and hopefully throughout our nation.
For Worley & Obetz, having biofuels closer to home could only mean Highspire, Pa., home of the largest pipeline terminal in the Commonwealth, otherwise known as Petroleum Products Corporation. Together in partnership with PPC and the Pennsylvania DEP, Independence Biofuels put into place a plan to construct an injection blending facility that would grant any company that loads at PPC the opportunity to blend diesel fuels or heating oil with various percentages of biofuels. After completion, Worley & Obetz. will be the first customer to load from this state-of-the-art facility.
This facility is the only one of its kind available right now on the East Coast. Before the product reaches the customer’s truck, it will have seamlessly blended the product. For a first-time customer purchasing biofuels, from a convenience standpoint, this process is no different from the current procedure they follow in purchasing diesel or heating oil from a standard petroleum pipeline terminal. Independence Biofuels hopes that this convenience factor eliminates any deterrents previously existing for other interested buyers.
With the biofuel injection blending facility construction to reach completion of by September, the Worley & Obetz team waits to see what new expectations this renewable resource can exceed. As the company awaits the facility completion, they have dedicated hours to educating others about the benefits biofuels offer the petroleum markets.
“At this point, it’s about spreading the word of this remarkable and renewable product,” Lyons concluded.