Regions Southwest Virginia

Bioenergy startup to open production center in Lee County

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by Heather B. Hayes

A plant scheduled to open in Lee County in March could produce 10 million gallons of biofuel in its first 24 months. If the plant reaches that level, it could more than double its initial work force of about 30 workers, says Ankit Patel, CEO of Synergy Biofuels, the company building the facility.

Synergy Biofuels is an alternative energy startup based in New Jersey that converts vegetable oil into diesel. It is investing $1 million in the Lee County plant.

Biofuel can be used to power any diesel engine. The fuel can be made with any kind of vegetable oil, including used oil recycled from fryers and other cooking equipment.

Many restaurants now pay for the disposal of their grease and used oil. “We’ll recover it for them free of charge using our own trucks,” Patel explains. “Once we’re in production and able to start doing that and capture that supply market, the price [for the fuel] will drop.”

Patel plans to sell biofuel initially through gas stations and other local fuel distributors. He also hopes to obtain contracts with Virginia school systems, the Virginia Department of Transportation and other government agencies.

The price of biofuel recently has been comparable to diesel at around $3-plus per gallon. The price varies depending on the time of year and the level of consumer demand, says Patel. “There are efforts under way to find new sources of biofuel, such as algae, and to develop new technologies that in five or 10 years will make it a lot less expensive to manufacture biofuel and therefore a lot less expensive for the consumer to buy.” 

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