Great Falls Companies Fuel Renewable Diesel Industry

May 17, 2023

Great Falls Companies Fuel Renewable Diesel Industry

Camelina, which grows well in Montana, can be turned into a key source for fuel.

By Kevin Litwin on March 27, 2023

Diesel fuel can be produced from camelina feedstock.

Sustainable Oils Inc.

Many farmers in Great Falls and around Montana grow crops like wheat, canola, barley and peas, and now they have another growing option that isn’t tied to the food market.

A flowering plant called camelina grows well in Montana, and renewable diesel fuel can be produced from the camelina feedstock.

A Sustainable Future

A Great Falls company involved in that process is Sustainable Oils, which celebrated the first anniversary of its North American headquarters here in November 2022.

Sustainable Oils is a subsidiary of California-based Global Clean Energy Holdings, which also operates a fuel refinery subsidiary in Bakersfield, California. Now, Montana farmers can grow acres of camelina and then haul that grain to any of seven handling facilities located in different parts of the state, where the camelina is then transported by rail to the Bakersfield refinery where the grain is made into renewable diesel.

“Taking a plant and making diesel fuel from it is really amazing,” says Keith Horton, Sustainable Oils commercial manager. “Camelina gives Montana farmers a brand-new market to be involved in and can provide incremental income for growers – and that’s a bonus for rural communities.”

“Camelina gives Montana farmers a brand-new market to be involved in and can provide incremental income for growers – and that’s a bonus for rural communities.”

Keith Horton, Sustainable Oils

The Sustainable Oils headquarters in Great Falls has 12 employees who work in areas such as agronomy, and research and development. Those employees are largely involved with developing new varieties of camelina that will continue to advance the company’s renewable diesel market.

Renewable diesel is in increasing demand in many states, especially in California where efforts are underway to reduce the carbon footprint associated with petroleum-based diesel. Horton adds that all renewable diesel produced from camelina at the Bakersfield refinery is currently used as fuel in mass transit vehicles like buses and diesel-based delivery vehicles, not everyday passenger vehicles.

“Camelina has many advantages, including that it is drought tolerant, can be planted early in the year and can be harvested early in the summer,” he says. “In addition, our camelina varieties used by Sustainable Oils are the only ones approved to meet the stringent California Low-Emission Vehicle Program’s low-carbon fuel standards.”

Calumet Montana Renewables in Great Falls, MT

Schreder Photography & Design

Renewable Diesel in Great Falls

Another Great Falls company involved in the diesel industry is Calumet Montana Refining, which has long imported heavy crude oil from Canada to produce petroleum-based diesel fuel.

Conventional diesel is different from renewable diesel in that conventional diesel is produced from crude feedstocks for its fuel, while renewable diesel is fuel made entirely from feedstocks such as beef tallow, mustard seeds, vegetable oil and animal fat – and camelina.

The heavy crude oil imported from Canada allows Calumet to make a variety of products like diesel jet fuel along with propane, butane and kerosene. The company also manufactures polymer-modified asphalt.

Calumet has expanded to add a company called Montana Renewables that is located on its Great Falls campus.


Enjoy the Farm-to-Table Scene in Great Falls

Agribusinesses thrive in this Montana region, which allow residents to enjoy locally sourced fare and brews.

While Calumet Montana Refining continues to be involved in diesel production, its Montana Renewables subsidiary will only produce renewable diesel fuel from feedstocks grown in the Big Sky State. Montana Renewables is expected to be running at full speed in 2023.

“A lot of refineries in America are only producing renewable diesel, but our facility will be producing renewable and conventional diesel,” says Marlena Halko, Calumet Montana Refining human resources manager. “And to produce our renewable diesel, we will be partnering with as many farmers and ranchers as possible in Montana to get the feedstocks we will need.”

Halko says current construction of the multimillion-dollar Montana Renewables plant is also a benefit to the Great Falls economy, with nine new tanks being constructed and 1,600 contractors on-site.

“Starting this new subsidiary company also means more full-time, high-paying jobs with full benefits so that employees can provide their families with an excellent quality of life,” Halko says. “In 2022, Calumet celebrated 100 years of doing business in Great Falls, and we feel that with Montana Renewables and this new renewable diesel project being added, it will take us through the next 100 years.”