Phillips 66 Joins Massive American Refiners Turning into Biofuel Plants

Giant oil refineries are converting to supply renewable fuels.

Phillips 66’s Los Angeles Refinery, one of the last to process crude oil. (Image courtesy of Phillips 66.)

Phillips 66’s Los Angeles Refinery, one of the last to process crude oil. (Image courtesy of Phillips 66.)

Phillips 66 is joining many other manufacturing companies in reconfiguring its refinery to produce renewable fuels.

The energy company announced that it will restructure its San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo, Calif., to produce diesel, renewable gasoline, and sustainable jet fuel from used cooking oil, fats, greases, and soybean oils instead of crude oil.

The company will become the world’s largest facility of its kind, producing greater than 800 million gallons a year of renewable resources.

The Rodeo Renewed project is the company’s second renewable fuels venture. The new endeavor includes the construction of pre-treatment units and the repurposing of existing hydrocracking units to enable the production of renewable gas, diesel and jet fuel. The plant has significant hydroprocessing capacity, which allows for the volume needed to produce large quantities of biodiesel.

In a process called transesterification, vegetable oils such as cooking oil, fats, greases and soybean oils react with simple alcohol to produce biodiesel. The process combines fatty acids, alcohol and catalyst, a strong base or strong acid, to cause a reversible reaction that produces raw  biodiesel and raw glycerol. The catalyst is usually sodium or potassium methanolate. After the transesterification process, the raw products go through a cleaning step.

Reaction equation of the transesterification process. (Image courtesy of NREL, 2004.)

Reaction equation of the transesterification process. (Image courtesy of NREL, 2004.)

The production for the Phillips 66 Rodeo Renewed project is set to begin in early 2024 if it is approved by Contra Costa County officials and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. 

Once reconfigured, the plant will no longer transport or process crude oil. The company will also close in 2023 the Rodeo Carbon Plant and the Santa Maria refining facility in Arroyo Grande, Calif. that produces 44,500 crude oil barrels per day, as well as shut down all associated crude oil pipelines starting the same year.

Not only will the production of renewable fuels reduce the carbon footprint of California, but it will also result in 75 percent less sulfur dioxide, and less local emissions compared to the current crude oil refinery.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation is also following suit. 

The manufacturing company is converting its Dickinson, N. Dak., and Martinez, Calif., refineries into renewable diesel plants. The Dickinson Renewable Diesel project will be completed in late 2020 and aims to process 12,000 barrels of renewable feedstock per day, from sources including corn and soybean oil. Marathon will also process municipal waste to derive biocrude at its Martinez refinery by using a process called hydrothermal liquefaction. 

Hydrothermal liquefaction uses very hot temperatures, high pressures, and catalysts to enable the water in waste to become subcritical or supercritical. The water then acts as a solvent, reactant and catalyst to facilitate the conversion of biomass to bio-oil. This means that organic waste, including wastewater sludge, livestock waste, and food waste, can be used to create  energy and biocrude oil. The oil can then be refined into renewable diesel and aviation kerosene. 

Process of hydrothermal liquefaction. (Image courtesy of Fundamental Trajectory.)

Process of hydrothermal liquefaction. (Image courtesy of Fundamental Trajectory.)

Alongside research and development subsidiary Virent Inc, Marathon is working to sell its BioForming technology, which allows plant sugars to be transformed into bio-gasoline and bio-jet fuel. 

The technology combines proprietary aqueous-phase reforming technology with established petroleum refining techniques to generate the same range of hydrocarbon molecules now refined from petroleum. The process begins by hydrotreating water-soluble carbohydrates and then using resultant sugar alcohols to form hydrogen and chemical intermediates, which it then combines  with a catalyst to turn it into gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.

Process of BioForming technology. (Image courtesy of Virent Inc.)

Process of BioForming technology. (Image courtesy of Virent Inc.)

Like Phillips 66, Marathon will receive credit from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard system as well as 1.7 Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) for every gallon of renewable diesel it produces. Both companies will receive credits by complying with the Renewable Fuel Standard program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil. 

PBF Energy Inc is also one of the many California companies that is repurposing its facility to produce renewable resources. Following PBF’s acquisition of Martinez refinery from Shell, the company plans to reconfigure the existing idled equipment at the Martinez refinery to create a renewable fuel production facility. 

Located near PBF’s Torrance refinery, the 860-acre site can produce 157,000 barrels of oil per day. In addition to its refining assets, PBF Energy also acquired a deep-water marine facility, product distribution terminals, and refinery crude and product storage facilities with approximately 8.8 million barrels of shell capacity.

With many companies turning to renewable fuels, renewable diesel production is still on the rise. U.S. renewable diesel production has risen year on year, and annual production is expected to grow in the coming years to over 400 million gallons due to expansions at existing plants and the construction of new plants, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.