SALEM, Ore. (AP) – A Willamette Valley consortium plans to turn the area’s only commercial biodiesel plant into a research and education campus. With the new emphasis on renewable energy and economic stimulus, backers feel the time is right.

Chemeketa Community College, Pacific Biodiesel Technologies and developer Wildwood Inc. submitted a proposal for $10 million in funding to Oregon’s congressional delegation. The project would be built over three years and could create 450 jobs, said Travis Henry, vice president of Wildwood.

The 30,000-square-foot facility, which would adjoin Pacific Biodiesel’s existing Salem plant, would include classrooms, test laboratories and pilot programs. Researchers hope the facility will help identify new biodiesel fuel sources.

The collaboration will involve Chemeketa students in every step in the process, said Chemeketa spokesman Greg Harris. “We see this opportunity as a unique chance to get talent developed for a growth industry,” he said.

Pacific Biodiesel processes used cooking oil and canola grown in Eastern Oregon, along with some tallow, said Will Smith, process engineering manager.

The expansion would allow the company to use different sources, including gatropha, a tropical nut, grease trap oil, algae oils and water treatment wastes.

“Imagine anything that’s rancid and disgusting and oily,” Smith told the Portland Daily Journal of Commerce.

Pacific Biodiesel could incorporate new biofuel sources into its existing mix.

“If they’re able to demonstrate the technology in a pilot scale, it could attract private industry, (which) could then build a full-scale production plant somewhere else,” he said.

The educational value relies on the close working relationship with Pacific Biodiesel, however, Henry said. “What makes this program so special is that you have students who are able to participate in all steps of the process.”

The project could get started within weeks of securing funding, said John Miller, president of Wildwood. “Our site is more than shovel-ready,” he said.

“Looking at what the priorities of what the new administration seem to be, the dire circumstance of the Oregon economy and the interest in building infrastructure for the new green economy, this fits with all of that,” Harris said.

The Associated Press

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