They eat a lot of chicken in Mississippi.
Mississippi State University says the poultry market is worth $3.8bn – making it the state’s most important agricultural commodity. It is an extremely mature market with six large processors. Their truck drivers have recently added a new destination for waste: Oleo-X, which is pretreating feedstocks to produce Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and renewable diesel.
“We have received truckloads of poultry fats and we have had drivers saying they have never been to an oil facility before,” says Sergio Correa, CEO, Oleo-X.
Correa joined Oleo-X after 10 years at Delta Air Lines where he was head of Clean Oil Products, trading between $10bn and $15bn of physical oil each year. He says he was attracted by the company’s unique, patent-pending feedstock pretreatment technology.
Oleo-X can take highly acidic waste – like distillers’ corn oil (the fats left over after producing corn-based ethanol) or chicken fat – and turn it into a feedstock. Until now, they have rarely been used because of metal impurities and other contaminants, which interfere with the expensive catalysts used in biofuel refineries.
“We can take alternative feedstocks and then pretreat them into really clean feedstocks that have a better yield – improving profitability – while protecting catalysts. Everyone knows that this is an issue for refineries,” says Correa. “Because the impurities have been taken away, we have also changed the properties of it for transport. We have samples here that have been in the refrigerator for over a month now at under 30 degrees Fahrenheit [minus 1°C] and it continues to flow. That’s not something you’re going to be able to find with raw oil or fats.”
Oleo-X is moving quickly. It acquired what was an industrial chemical facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi in June 2022 and has already converted it. Correa says that by the end of the year it will be producing 15,000 barrels of feedstock a day (300m gallons a year). He says that this can be used to make a similar amount of SAF or renewable diesel.
As well as supplying other SAF refineries, it is also looking at building its own. The Pascagoula site is based in a free trade zone and able to use trucks, rail, barges and ocean-going vessels. It is also close to the Plantation Fuel Pipeline.
“SAF is the solution for the next 15-20 years but there is a limited pool of feedstocks and we need to expand it. Used cooking oil will maybe get us to 20% of jet fuel needs, so we need to grow that,” says Correa. “Chicken fat or ethanol oil may add small percentages, but it is needed and our new pretreatment technologies could be real game changer with other feedstocks.”
The company’s majority investor is an affiliate of Time Equities, a diversified investment, property and alternative energy company. Other investors include Ivonne Ruggles. Correa says they are also looking for partnerships with other producers and would be interested in licensing technology.
“I thought I got pulled in lots of different directions with my past roles but I had no idea until I got here,” he says. “One of the key issues is that every industry has a different language. So getting ag people to talk with oil people to transport people to fuel people to end-users is a lot of fun.”