SJR proposes to construct and operate a biofuel facility that would convert orchard wood waste and nut shells into biochar (a charcoal-like material), renewable natural gas (RNG), and coproducts including ammonium sulfate fertilizer and carbon dioxide through a non-combustion thermal conversion process called gasification. Biomass materials would be collected from local orchards and nut processing facilities and delivered to the site by truck. Orchard wood waste, which would arrive at the facility already chipped, would comprise approximately 70 to 90 percent of the feedstock used at the facility while a mixture of various types of nut shells would comprise the balance.
RNG production would be achieved by combining oxygen, nitrogen, steam, sand, limestone, and biomass in the gasifier converter to produce a gas mixture called syngas. The oxygen and nitrogen used by the gasifier converter would be produced by another set of equipment at the facility called an air separation unit (ASU), which separates the various constituents of air into concentrated streams of both gas and liquid oxygen, nitrogen, and argon. A component of the ASU would include a 250-foot-tall cold box. The syngas is processed to remove biochar, sulfur, and nitrogen compounds and then converted into a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, and water. Once carbon dioxide and water are removed, the methane would meet the safety requirements of Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) and would be injected into the SoCalGas pipeline, which runs on the northern and eastern sides of the site.
The SJR facility would process up to 1,500 bone-dry tons per day (BDT) or 1,764 wet-basis (typically 15 percent moisture content) tons per day of agricultural waste biomass into approximately 12.5 million standard cubic feet per day (MMSCFD) of RNG. The RNG would be sold for use as a biofuel in transportation, electricity production, or any other application that uses natural gas. The outputs of the gasification process that would be trucked off the facility for sale include liquefied oxygen, nitrogen, and argon; biochar; and ammonium sulfate fertilizer. The carbon dioxide would either be vented to the atmosphere; trucked to an off-site, approved injection well; or manufactured into dry ice or liquified on site and shipped from the facility by truck for sale.
In addition to the gasification area, air separation unit area, and possible dry ice production area, the facility would also include a maintenance and operation building, truck repair building, two administration buildings with one of the buildings containing a visitor center, a scale house, a biomass receiving and storage area (shell storage area and wood yard) with truck tippers to unload the biomass and conveyers to move the material to the storage area, a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station with six fast-fill fueling points open to the public, an enclosed biomass grinder, up to ten acres of solar panel arrays, liquid storage tanks, two stormwater infiltration basins, a flare, roadways and parking lots, and an electric power generation facility that would produce electricity to power the facility (Figures 2 and 3).
A PG&E electrical substation is located in the northeast corner of the project site and would remain operational but would not supply power to the project. Primary access to the site would be via Melcher Road with secondary emergency access and exit gates off Elmo Highway.
Biomass feedstock deliveries would occur from 6 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Friday, and from 6 AM to Noon on Saturdays. During busy seasons for feedstock suppliers, feedstock receiving hours would be extended to Sunday from 6 AM to Noon. Biomass would be stored in outdoor, uncovered piles at the facility, with enough stockpiled inventory storage to enable one month of operation without deliveries.
The facility is planned to operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, except for scheduled maintenance outages and any unplanned shutdowns. The facility is projected to require 63 on-site employees and 86 truck drivers for a total of 149 full-time employees.
Trucks delivering biomass from State Route 99 to the site and trucks transporting marketable products from the site would be directed to use the State Route 99/Pond Road intersection to Garzoli Avenue, Elmo Highway, and Melcher Road.
Construction of the SJR facility is expected to take 12 to 18 months and is expected to begin in the second or third quarter of 2024. It is estimated that there would be approximately 475 personnel needed for the construction of the facility. San Joaquin Renewables has entered into a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and the Kern, Inyo, and Mono Counties Building and Construction Trades Council to utilize union workers during construction.