Piedmont Biofuels gets sustainability certificate

jmurawski@newsobserver.comMarch 8, 2013 

Piedmont Biofuels, the Pittsboro maker of biodiesel fuel, was awarded a global sustainability certification that the company’s owner says should help the ailing industry gradually shed the bad rap that it harms the environment.

The certification from Swiss nonprofit Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels is intended to demonstrate that Piedmont Biofuels and other recipients are environmentally sound and socially responsible.

Piedmont Biofuels is the second company in the United States to receive the certification, which is based on an outside audit and required Piedmont Biofuels to remediate some practices before it qualified as sustainable. The 7-employee company collects used cooking oil from area restaurants and refines it into fuel that’s sold to oil companies and to 300 members of a local biofuels cooperative.

The third-party certification was done by SCS Global Services, based in Emeryville, Calif.

The need for such third-party legitimacy is a measure of the biofuels industry’s persistent public relations problem. Numerous biofuels refineries in this country have failed, some depending on train shipments of Midwestern corn, as critics complained that the industry is a boondoggle that raises the cost of food production and uses more energy than it offsets.

“Biofuels are not without sin,” admitted Lyle Estill, president of Piedmont Biofuels.

In recent weeks RSB has announced seven certifications, with others expected soon, the culmination of several years of prep work by the biofuels industry to regain credibility by policing itself. The other U.S. company to receive certification is Dynamic Fuels in Louisiana.

Others certified are biofuels producers and feedstock producers in Australia, Peru, Mexico, Sierra Leone and The Netherlands.

Estill said the company had to build railings and catwalks and make other modifications to its facility to qualify as sustainable.

The features that helped the company attain the certification included boilers and a truck fleet that runs on B100 biodiesel rather than fossil fuel.

Estill said that a 100-kilowatt solar array at the company facility offsets about 30 percent of electricity demand. And he said the company has reduced water use by 85 percent.

Piedmont Biofuels was formed in 2005, achieved its first profitable year in 2011 and has been in the black since.

“We’ve had so many body blows it’s a miracle we’re still alive,” Estill said.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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