A thriving small factory in the New Haven harbor district that turns french fry and other vegetable oil and animal fat into carbon emission-reducing biodiesel fuel has over the past year increased its production capacity from 20 million gallons a year to 40 million – in part because it had a $20 million infusion of private investment for upgrades and new equipment.
It needs government help to take the next step to become a bigger part of the Connecticut’s green energy future.
Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Susan Bysiewicz heard that story – and request – when she made a campaign stop Wednesday morning American GreenFuels on Waterfront Street in New Haven’s harbor district.
Biodiesel is a renewable fuel made from “feedstocks,” plant-based oils and animal fats that undergo a process called transesterification, to become sustainable fuel sources. It is more commonly produced in the Midwest. It is gaining a foothold in New England, where American GreenFuels LLC is the largest producer.
The company opened its operation in 2013 and acquired by Bridgeport-based Kolmar Americas, Inc., in 2015, which invested in new pumps, tanks, vats, and other equipment. The plant now churns out 40 million gallons of biodiesel each year, said Mikulas Gasparik, the general manager and vice president for operations.
Biewiecz said she has recently been touring sustainable energy firms because that is one of her and running mate Ned Lamont’s primary areas of focus for their potential new administration. “We want to see [more] sustainable energy and jobs in the state,” she said, but she had never been to American Green Fuels.
She learned that the original company, Greenleaf Biofuels did receive start-up support from the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The leap in production required Kolmar, a Bridgeport-based commodities trading firm, which had been an original partner, to buy out American Green Leaf and expand with a $20 million investment in the plant.
With that investment in equipment, the facility in the port district now employees about 40 people — operators, maintenance mechanics, and welders — to keep 105 pumps and other equipment running smoothly.
It collects all that restaurant and other grease and organic material not from the eateries themselves but from what’s known in the trade as “aggregators.” It produces and sells the biodiesel produced to home heating oil providers and distributors, which use it as a blend.
That’s where the company pitched Bysiewicz on her potential help, should she and Lamont win the Nov. 6 general election.
“We are asking for help in establishing a thermal REC [renewable energy credit] program for biodiesel blended into home heating oil,” said the company’s attorney, Elias Petersen, in an email after the gathering.
Bysiewicz said that she knows renewable energy companies that operate in states like Massachusetts and New Jersey have a better deal than do those currently in Connecticut.
She called GreenFuels’ request “absolutely intriguing. This is a step that can get us closer” to state renewable energy standards, which propose 40 percent renewables by 2030.
Then Bysiewicz donned an orange hard hat and went inside the facility, where for safety and other reasons, said Staff Attorney Elias Peterson, the press was not allowed.