A newly completed expansion to the Renewable Energy Group’s biorefinery in Ralston more than doubled its production capacity.
A newly completed expansion to the Renewable Energy Group’s biorefinery in Ralston more than doubled its production capacity.

May 11, 2018

RALSTON

Renewable Energy Group more than doubled the amount of biodiesel it can produce at its refinery in Ralston as part of a $32 million expansion it recently completed.

“This was a very complex project,” Derek Winkel, the executive director of manufacturing operations for the company, said at a public event on Wednesday that celebrated the project. “There was no system left untouched.”

Up to 160 people were working at any given time on the project, which began in late 2016. All the while, the facility kept churning out the fuel.

The original portion of the plant, which was built in 2002, was capable of producing about 12 million gallons of biodiesel each year from soybean oil. The refinery is now capable of producing up to 30 million gallons annually — which takes about 20.5 million bushels of soybeans.

“I was just amazed at how you were able to pull that off,” said Jeff Stroburg, chairman of Renewable Energy Group’s board of directors. “Everybody’s interested in what we’re doing here in this little town of Ralston.”

The population of Ralston is estimated at 75 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The refinery now employs 25 people. Five of those jobs were added as part of the expansion, said Katie Stanley, a spokeswoman for the company.

The project ran parallel with Landus Cooperative’s major expansion of its soybean-processing plant that is also in Ralston. Landus uses soybeans to create its SoyPlus dairy-feed ingredient, and Renewable Energy Group uses the leftover soybean oil to make biodiesel.

The biodiesel is blended with petroleum-based diesel and sold for use in diesel vehicles, similar to how corn-based ethanol is blended with gasoline.

The Ralston refinery is one of 13 biomass-based diesel refineries the company operates. Three of them are in Iowa, including in Newton and Mason City.

Together, those refineries are capable of producing 565 million gallons of biodiesel each year.

At a 2016 ground-breaking event that began the Ralston project, then-Gov. Terry Branstad marveled at how much the biodiesel industry has grown.

I was here in the 1990s when biodiesel was just a dream,” he said at the time. “I am honored to participate in the expansion of Iowa’s first continuous-flow biodiesel plant. (Renewable Energy Group) has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to investing in Iowa and building a future for this state in homegrown, advanced biofuel.”