The biodiesel market is poised to expand dramatically in Washington State. Natural Selections Farms in Sunnyside, in the lower Yakima Valley, is set to open a biodiesel plant this summer that will begin producing 380,000 gallons per year, with a maximum capacity of more than a million gallons per year.

Natural Selections President Ted Durfey said the company will require 2,100 acres of state-grown winter canola to produce the fuel initially, growing to 6,300 acres when the plant is operating at capacity.

“We feel we should be able to average a minimum of 4,000 pounds per acre and more realistically 4,500 pounds per acre,” Durfey said in an e-mail. “New varieties are being developed and are actually being grown in Germany that are achieving greater gallons per ton.”

Durfey plans to sell some fuel directly to large users. Other fuel will be blended and used on site, and some raw canola oil will be sold to buyers who want to refine their own fuel.

New company

In a related development, Seattle-based Seattle Biodiesel in May announced a new company, Imperium Renewables, that plans to build a $40 million biodiesel plant in western Washington that’s expected to produce 100 million gallons of biodiesel fuel a year. Seattle Biodiesel, which produces about 5 million gallons a year in its Seattle plant, is the only such existing plant in the state, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

John Plaza, president and cofounder of Imperium Renewables, said in an e-mail that the company would like to produce as much as possible from state-grown winter canola, provided it can be cost effective.

The average yield statewide for canola is 1,500 pounds of seed per acre, which converts to 75 gallons of oil per acre. Plaza noted that Durfey’s projected yields are considerably higher because Natural Selections is using newer, higher-yield varieties and methods. He said also that yields vary considerably with soil and weather conditions in different parts of the state.

Researchers at Washington State University have estimated that the state can produce at least 500,000 acres of canola by rotating it with dry-land wheat, Plaza said.

Imperium Renewables will sell its product through distributors already working with Seattle Biodiesel, as well as other vendors around the state and in the West, Plaza said.

“We have to be competitive with biodiesel from [the] Midwest that is coming into the market now. Current sales price without taxes and credits from federal government is $3.15 per gallon.”

Jason Kelly of the Washington Department of Agriculture said the department has no data on the amount of biodiesel sold in the state every year or its source materials.