10-year anniversary videos offer unique glimpse inside REG

By Ron Kotrba | October 03, 2016

Renewable Energy Group Inc. is quietly celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a series of videos being released to commemorate the company’s—and the biodiesel industry’s—significant growth and maturation over the past decade. REG has been discreet about its anniversary videos, only mentioning them as asides in other company news releases. In an exclusive interview with Biodiesel Magazine, Daniel Oh, REG’s president and CEO, said, “We run this fine line between wanting to tell people good things but not being boastful.”

While REG is marking its 10-year anniversary as an independent company, the biodiesel powerhouse’s roots go back 21 years to the West Central Cooperative in Ralston, Iowa, where it all began. Oh said the co-op’s small, 1 MMgy batch plant in Ralston started development in 1995. Since then, the facility has been replaced by a 12 MMgy continuous flow biodiesel plant, but that first small production unit was the epicenter of great innovation and experimentation, Oh told Biodiesel Magazine.

“Everyone was awash in inexpensive soybean oil at the time,” Oh said. Research was booming at the Ralston plant on methyl esters as fuel, cleaners and solvents with institutions such as Iowa State University and the soybean associations. The nation’s biodiesel revolution was beginning to take shape in Iowa. Just two hours away, AGP was building what has become known as the nation’s first commercial-scale soy biodiesel plant in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa.

REG was spun out of West Central Cooperative in August 2006 as an independent company. Today, REG has 12 active biorefineries across the U.S.—including 10 biodiesel plants, a renewable diesel facility and a demo-scale fermentation plant for production of renewable chemicals—and an expansive distribution network.  To celebrate its formation a decade ago, Oh said the company thought it would be appropriate to accomplish a few things at once with the release of REG’s 10-year Anniversary Celebration Series of videos.

“I think our history reflects the evolution of the industry over the past 10 years,” Oh said. “We wanted to share with our employees, investors and vendors what we’ve become. We’re capturing this point in time by putting out many videos that are almost entirely done internally. In the videos, we’re talking about our plants, growth activities, new products coming out in the future, and our capabilities in supply chain management so people can understand our business. If they’re trying to learn about us through our website and financial statements, it doesn’t really come to life. So this is a great way to do that—to share what we’ve become, how we do business, and what we are today.”

So far, REG has released videos on the Mason City, Albert Lea and Grays Harbor biodiesel plants, the Geismar renewable diesel facility, the company’s record-breaking 50 million gallons of sales in August, and a three-part series on REG Life Sciences just released Sept. 28.

In January 2014, REG expanded its technology repertoire with the acquisition of LS9, a renewable chemical technology developer, which led to the development of the REG Life Sciences division. Based in South San Francisco, California, and with a demonstration plant in Okeechobee, Florida, REG Life Sciences is honing a fermentation platform to produce a host of renewable chemicals.

In the trio of Life Sciences videos just released, REG discusses the three core platforms at REG Life Sciences: fatty acid metabolism, E. coli physiology and genetic engineering, and biotechnology and fermentation science engineering. The fermentation technology can leverage the genetically engineered E. coli, a “selective and efficient renewable chemicals machine,” as the company says, to make versatile chemical products from corn, cellulose or crude glycerin sugars. REG is the largest producer of crude glycerin in North America, manufacturing 200 million pounds a year from its network of biodiesel refineries.

So what’s on the horizon for REG? “The really great thing is we can still be very disciplined in where we invest,” Oh said. “Biomass-based diesel is growing in North America. [We’ll continue to focus on fuel] sales, plant upgrades, maybe more acquisitions, completing the plants we have. And there’s our renewable hydrocarbon diesel business. We also have about 90 percent ownership in Germany-based Petrotec. We’re establishing an office in Amsterdam, so we’ll grow our platform in the EU as we see growth opportunities there. Our chemicals platform deserves further investment, along with our energy services division to grow biofuel in the marketplace, and facilitating aggregation of lower carbon intensity materials. We’re going to keep growing.”