Biofuel plant in Greenfield gearing up to start operation

  • General manager Rick Durepo, left, with board members and worker owners in the storage tank area at the Northeast Biodiesel fuel plant in the Industrial Park in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Board member Brian Clark and general manager Rick Durepo at the Northeast Biodiesel fuel plant in the Industrial Park in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Board member Brian Clark and general manager Rick Durepo in the storage tank area at the Northeast Biodiesel fuel plant in the Industrial Park in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Northeast Biodiesel fuel plant in the Industrial Park in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Board members Brian Clark and Sam Bartlett and general manager Rick Durepo at the Northeast Biodiesel fuel plant in the Industrial Park in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2022 10:39:06 AM

GREENFIELD — Nearly six years after its anticipated opening, Northeast Biodiesel LLC — a biofuel manufacturing plant located in the Industrial Park — is once again gearing up to start operation.

The new general manager, Rick Durepo, who was brought on in August, said his understanding of the situation is that financing fell short in 2016. He’s hopeful now, following several recent meetings with lenders, to secure funding in time to begin operating its 1.75-million-gallon-a-year plant by early spring, producing fuel using recycled vegetable oil from restaurants and catering facilities around the state.

“In the meantime, we’re working on safety audits,” Durepo said. “We’re completing inspections of all the fire systems, because the plant has been idle.”

Over the summer and into the fall, he said, applications for worker-owner positions were reviewed. Once applicants had been screened and interviewed, they attended worker co-op sessions.

“We were able to conditionally hire eight people — conditional upon financing,” Durepo said. “The effort to train the people in the functions of a co-op has been completed for five of the eight. Three more who were brought on later need to complete training.”

Durepo said the plant is 90% to 95% ready, in terms of financing.

“We’ve had a bunch of meetings, and people like what we’ve done so far,” he said. “The plan eventually will be to turn the plant 24/7 producing biodiesel.”

The venture to build a factory was first announced in 2004 by then-Congressman John W. Olver — who brought a $300,000 National Renewable Energy grant to get the project rolling — during a press conference at the Cooperative Development Institute’s Federal Street headquarters.

To further study the feasibility of such a plant, CDI helped get a $340,000 U.S. Department of Energy business planning and development grant the previous year for the consumer-owned alternative energy cooperative Co-op Power, which today owns 75% of Northeast Biodiesel.

Co-op Power and Northeast Biodiesel President and CEO Lynn Benander previously said that of the $5 million spent on the plant, 19% came from grants from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the state Department of Energy Resources; 18% from local Co-op Power investors; and 63% from Co-op Power member loans.

As it was five years ago, Durepo said the plan is still to grow the plant at 179 Silvio O. Conte Drive over time.

“We plan on starting up the plant as is,” he said. “From there, we’re looking at expansion of a second processor.”

The co-op is also looking to create a subcommittee that looks at the relationships with local restaurants and will continue to seek additional restaurant members, according to Durepo.

“That’s going to be one of our key focus areas … in the local community,” he said.

Durepo, a retired plant manager at Monsanto/Solutia/Eastman Chemical companies in Springfield, has 35 years experience in managing operating teams. When he retired, he said if he found something he loved to do, he would do it. In this case, it was as much the product as it was the people who compelled him to take up the project.

“It’s great for the environment,” he said. “We do need trucks and vehicles, but if we can make them emit less and make them safer emissions, that’s a good thing.”

He’s also been impressed by the enthusiasm of the people involved, most of whom are volunteers.

“We’ve got a lot of good people working on this, and at this point, morale is very high and we’re just trying to go through the whole funding/financial process and once that’s completed, I think everybody will be eager to go,” Durepo said. “We’ve hired the right people to make this a success.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy