Kemin Industries Inc. has used Renewable Energy Group Inc.’s biodiesel to research and develop an antioxidant product that better stabilizes the fuel. Photo submitted.
Kemin Industries Inc. has used Renewable Energy Group Inc.’s biodiesel to research and develop an antioxidant product that better stabilizes the fuel. Photo submitted.

The relationship began at a 2007 World Food Prize event in Des Moines. Renewable Energy Group Inc. (REG) was hosting the Biofuels Expo, and Kemin Industries Inc. was looking to enter the biofuels industry. Initial discussions led to a research partnership that a year later created a new antioxidant product in the biofuels market for Kemin and improved the sustainability of REG's biofuels.

"It's really exciting to have two Iowa companies coming together to help find ways to improve biodiesel quality throughout the supply chain," said Glen Meier, research and development manager for Ames-based REG.

The companies' research has focused on how to prevent oxidative degeneration from occurring under different conditions throughout the shipping, handling and storage of biodiesel.

Biodiesel is more prone to oxidation than petroleum-based diesel fuels and can cause sediment to form that will plug a car's fuel filter.

Though most biodiesel is consumed before the renewable fuel begins to oxidize, this could become more of an issue as demand for biodiesel increases and it is shipped to more places nationally and internationally.

From 2004 to 2005, biodiesel sales tripled, according to figures from the National Biodiesel Board, and then tripled again to 250 million gallons. In 2007, demand was 500 million and then 700 million last year.

"They need to be prepared for anything," said Kerty Levy, vice president of Kemin. "Biodiesel, like food, has a certain shelf life. As biodiesel sits for longer periods in less than ideal environments, we need to make sure no matter when someone picks up the fuel, it's okay to use."

Though Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, said he is not familiar with the details of the partnership, he is excited to see two Iowa companies working closely together. He added, "Oxidative stability is one of Kemin's strengths, and the fact that a global company like that chooses to spend resources developing a product for the biodiesel industry reinforces how important the biodiesel industry is to Iowa and our nation."

Kemin and REG's relationship was a natural step for the two companies, with REG wanting to find new ways to ensure its biodiesel products hold up in the supply chain and Kemin wanting to enter the biodiesel market because it fit with other areas of its research and production in vegetable oils and animal fats.

"There are some companies already in the market, but Kemin brings a well-known name and experience and is willing to put in quite a bit of research behind their product," Meier said.

The result has been that REG now has an antioxidant tailored specifically to its products and greatly enhancing the stability of its biodiesel, and Kemin has introduced BF320 to the greater biodiesel market along with two other antioxidant products.

These antioxidant products are Kemin's first entrance into the biofuels industry and make up a small percentage of its overall business; but business could grow as the biodiesel industry develops. This area of research falls under its stabilization platform, which is one of four areas Kemin is focused on. It also is involved with industries including food, pet food, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.

REG is working on a number of projects, too. In November, REG was awarded $740,000 from the Iowa Power Fund to use toward staffing a new biodiesel research and feedstock commercialization laboratory within its Ames headquarters.

Kemin and REG's research has made some significant finds in the industry, including that Kemin's product can completely protect biodiesel fuels against oxidation if they're treated early. Tests also show that an early low-dose treatment with antioxidant is more effective than a late high-dose treatment in preventing oxidation.

The product, Meier said, "is able to preserve the quality significantly longer than without."

The companies also discovered that rather than having one product that fits all biodiesel, companies need different products depending on whether the biodiesel is made from animal fat or vegetable oil.

The partnership will continue to research how biodiesel holds up under different conditions, such as evaluating the effects of adding Kemin's BF320 antioxidant in 100 percent biodiesel when stored at higher temperatures and what happens if a higher-quality biodiesel is added to a poorer quality product already in the tank.

REG supplies the biodiesel for Kemin to test, and also has knowledge of different conditions biodiesel could face and how Kemin can best integrate its products into a production stream, while Kemin handles most of the research.

"There's been a real good response to this and definitely we need people wanting to learn more about it," Meier said. "As more and more petroleum distributors get into biofuels, we need to learn the best way to handle it."

Changes made to how REG will use its Power Fund grant on Jan. 27