Visalia bioenergy company expands to the Merced area

California Bioenergy, joins with Chevron to expand market dairy biomethane as a renewable natural gas for transportation fuel in California

VISALIA – The Visalia based company California Bioenergy LLC (CalBio) continues to bring more technology and partner with more companies to expand the number of digesters and methane capture projects helping lower emissions and produce renewable natural gas. 

CalBio and Chevron U.S.A. Inc., a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation, announced a joint investment in a second holding company to produce and market dairy biomethane as a renewable natural gas (RNG) for transportation fuel in California. CalBioGas Hilmar LLC, the holding company, secured initial funding from Chevron to build infrastructure for dairy biomethane projects at seven dairies in Merced County. These projects are expected to be completed in 2023.

“This project brings together support from many groups, including seven California Dairy farmers, who are national leaders in milk and cheese production; Chevron, one of California’s largest energy companies; and grant funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture,” Neil Black, president of CalBio said. “The strong support from these partners will help California with its emission reduction targets.”

With the signed agreement, Chevron will provide additional funding necessary for seven digesters and one central upgrading facility across the cluster of dairy farms in Hilmar, in Merced county. Once the project is complete next year, Chevron will take 100% of the renewable natural gas produced to market in the California vehicle fuels market.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with CalBio and work with local communities and farmers to develop lower carbon fuel solutions,” Andy Walz, president of Americas Fuels & Lubricants for Chevron said.

Manure storage on dairy farms results in the release of methane, which is a highly potent greenhouse gas. The biomethane projects capture the methane into digesters, which work similar to your stomach, to convert solids into gas. These projects will mitigate the dairies’ methane emissions and reduce greenhouse emissions from livestock. CalBio brings the technology and operational experience to help dairy farmers build digesters and methane capture projects. The projects convert methane to a beneficial use as a RNG which is then considered carbon negative on a lifecycle basis under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. 

This cluster of digesters in Hilmar have been awarded grant funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. These grants must be augmented with additional capital to complete the projects. According to Chevron, as a part of their lower carbon objectives, they are complementing the strength of their traditional products business with new offerings that help customers support a lower carbon future. The carbon negative renewable natural gas produced from dairy biomethane is essential to reach that goal as a part of its solutions. Not only will it help reduce emissions and improve the air quality in the valley, it will also help out the local surrounding communities through job creation.

According to CalBio vice president of dairy relations and regulatory compliance, Ty Korenwinder, this project will provide temporary construction jobs as well as long term jobs for those in the surrounding communities. 

“There are obviously construction jobs involved with the projects that are temporary, but in addition to that, we do our best to fill in with local employees on a permanent basis as the projects develop,” Korenwinder said. “The specific number is still to be determined.”

According to Tyler Kruzich, with Chevron external affairs, Chevron is always looking for ways to expand this project and invest in the space in the Valley. . 

“Chevron has set forth a goal to produce 40,000 million BTUs of renewable natural gas by 2030, and we continue to look for new partnerships that can help us reach that goal,” Kruzich said. 

In 2020, there was a joint venture between CalBio, Chevron and dairy farmers, where the Visalia company brought technology and operational experience to help build digesters and methane capture projects to convert this methane to a beneficial use as RNG. This was the first project where Chevron provided funding for digester projects across three geographic clusters in Kern, Tulare and Kings Counties in addition to money invested by the dairies. 

In that same year, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved an underground pipeline connecting a dairy cluster in north Visalia with Southern California Gas Company’s (SoCalGas) utility pipeline. 2020 marked a significant milestone for CalBio, which has been at the technological forefront of converting dairy waste into renewable fuel since 2006. That’s when Buckenham, a technology engineer, partnered with Neil Black, a leader in environmental sustainability, to begin developing biodigester technologies for dairies. In 2013, CalBio launched the largest dairy digester in the state near Bakersfield in Kern County, the first project attempting to make the technology viable on a commercial scale.

Most of California’s large dairies are making plans to install digesters to capture biogas from their cow manure but are looking for a cleaner way to utilize this fuel. Biogas captured from cow manure contains approximately 65% methane, which has a 25 times greater impact on global warming than CO2 emissions and accounts for 105 of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but is also a useful, renewable fuel. CalBio is directly involved in half of the 123 dairy digester projects in operation or development across the state. Ninety-four percent of those projects are at San Joaquin Valley dairies, 55 of which are in Tulare County. According to DairyCares.com, a single cow can generate enough renewable fuel to drive a car across the country. Five cows are enough to power a house for an entire year.

CalBioGas began the joint venture with Chevron in the summer of 2019, when it secured funding from the energy company to build infrastructure for dairy biomethane projects in California’s San Joaquin Valley, adding to the investment from dozens of dairy farmers. Chevron will also provide services to bring this product into the California vehicle fuels market.

CalBio is a leading developer of dairy digesters for generating renewable electricity and vehicle fuel in California. Founded in 2006, CalBio has worked closely with the dairy industry and state agencies to develop programs to help the state achieve its methane reduction goals while delivering a new revenue source to California dairies.

Chevron is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies. We believe affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner energy is essential to achieving a more prosperous and sustainable world. Chevron produces crude oil and natural gas; manufactures transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals and additives; and develops technologies that enhance our business and the industry. We are focused on lowering the carbon intensity in our operations and growing lower carbon businesses along with our traditional business lines. 

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