BP Cherry Point takes a step toward cleaner diesel with new major fuel unit

Five things to know about BP Cherry Point

BP Cherry Point is the largest oil refinery in Washington state. On an average day, it processes up to 236,000 barrels of crude oil.
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BP Cherry Point is the largest oil refinery in Washington state. On an average day, it processes up to 236,000 barrels of crude oil.

New equipment at BP Cherry Point is helping the refinery cut its carbon footprint while meeting tougher environmental regulations.

The renewable diesel unit started operating earlier this year, taking tallow — a substance made from rendered animal fat — and converting it into energy that is blended into diesel fuel. The tallow, which is trucked in from different areas of the West Coast, will become a 5 percent blend with diesel fuel that is transported out of Cherry Point, said Willie Truemper III, Northwest senior field engineer for BP in an interview during a site tour on Oct. 16.

Some states, including California, and federal programs require blending of renewable fuel, so this new unit helps meet those requirements. But the multi-million-dollar project that took 12 months to complete is also a way for the refinery to reduce its carbon footprint, said Pam Brady, director of northwest government and public affairs at BP.

“It’s cool to be using this technology, to be getting into co-processing,” Brady said. “It shows BP’s commitment to energy transition.”

Fuel blending is something that can make good business sense and provide some environmental benefits for oil companies, said Joel Swisher in an email. Swisher is the director of the Institute of Energy Studies at Western Washington University.

Using a short-cycle (not-fossil) biomass could be carbon neutral, particularly if it is waste material that would otherwise decompose and release carbon dioxide, Swisher said.

“If the biomass fuel use offsets the use of fossil fuel, there can be a benefit in terms of CO2 emissions,” Swisher said in the email.

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The energy created in this storage tank of the renewable diesel unit at BP Cherry Point near Ferndale will be blended with diesel fuel, meeting federal and state programs that require blending for cleaner fuel. Dave Gallagher The Bellingham Herald

While it can be a benefit, Swisher noted that in this kind of blend, 95 percent is still fossil oil.

The renewable diesel now being made at Cherry Point is a “fully compliant diesel fuel replacement” that can be used all the way up to 100 percent pure form, Truemper said in an email Monday. Biodiesel, a first-generation biofuel, is chemically different and lacks vehicle manufacturer warranty at anything much above 10 percent or 20 percent blend levels, he said.

Brady said the new renewable fuels unit is an exciting development at Cherry Point. There’s room for expansion and it could lead to converting other substances, like restaurant oil, into renewable fuel at Cherry Point. The new unit has meant a few more jobs for people doing testing and lab sample work.

“It’s the right thing to and it makes economic sense,” Brady said.

The fuel blend percentages used in renewable diesel and the time it took to complete the project were corrected Oct. 29, 2018.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz
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