Biodiesel facility fuels Danville economy

By Masha Stul

The recent opening of Blackhawk, Illinois’ largest biodiesel production facility, has fueled economic development in Danville and the surrounding region.

Pooling a total of $45 million, more than 500 individual investors worked with Renewable Energy Group, Inc, the state of Illinois, the Illinois Finance Authority, and local development group Vermilion Advantage to create the facility, said Vicki Haugen, president and CEO of Vermilion Advantage.

The various agencies involved all viewed the establishment of Blackhawk as a success in working toward their common vision of green economic development, said Diane Hamburger, the Illinois Finance Authority’s assistant director.

Blackhawk’s fuel exceeds the nationwide standards for biodiesel, said Alicia Clancy, Renewable Energy Group’s communications specialist. At the same time, the plant operates with a unique cost advantage – its proximity to a soybean-crushing facility reduces the cost of transporting raw material, Haugen said.

“Renewable Energy Group strives to price our high-quality biodiesel at a price that is competitive with the number two diesel that is found at convenience stores and truck stops today,” Clancy said.

Haugen also said a feature that will set Blackhawk apart in the long run is its capability to operate on animal fat as well as soybean oil.

“When the price of soybeans goes up and the price of oil goes up, they can shift to running on animal fat,” she said.

While providing green fuel in a state densely crisscrossed with interstates, Blackhawk also spurs a trickle-down of economic growth, Hamburger said.

Haugen said the plant sustains the demand for the soybeans, which supports local agriculture jobs.

Factoring in the construction work force, the establishment of the plant has created at least 150 jobs in the community, Clancy said.

“(Blackhawk) is already drawing interest from associated suppliers in the area,” Haugen said. “It’s a lot of positive spin-off during a time when we’re talking about a lot of doom and gloom due to the recession.”

Haugen said the green movement presents much economic opportunity in Illinois and the Midwest because the region is a prime location of all the necessary resources. Obama’s administration holds renewable energy as a top priority, which means the area is likely to receive research dollars appropriated at the federal level, she said.

Green energy resources will play a significant role in helping the region cope with the economic crisis, Haugen added.