Phillips 66 To Convert Plant For Sustainable Fuel Production


Phillips 66 announced on Wednesday that it plans to reconfigure its San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo, California, to produce sustainable diesel, gasoline and jet fuels. The conversion would move the refinery from using crude oil for fuel production to using cooking oil, fats, greases and soybean oils. Phillips 66 estimates the “Rodeo Renewed” project will produce 680 million gallons of sustainable fuel annually.

“For the better part of a century, Phillips 66 Aviation has propelled the aviation industry forward through innovative fuels that meet industry demands,” said Phillips 66 General Aviation Manager Lindsey Grant. “This conversion is part of our response to the growing demand for high quality, lower carbon, cleaner-burning fuel and increased interest in sustainable jet fuel.”

According to the company, the conversion project is pending approval by Contra Costa County and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. If approved, production of sustainable fuels is expected to begin in early 2024. Following the reconfiguration, the facility will no longer produce or process any crude oil products.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. This is really nuts when the USA is a net exporter of oil and crude oil is cheap. It’s also nuts since all the clean water that is required for making it rentable IS MORE RARE AND LESS RENUABLE than oil.

    • Phillips is a for profit corporation, so why are they nuts if they see a viable market segment for these products where they can make money?

      • Because this cover story lets them keep their refinery investment in California. It staves off the politicians for a while.

    • Clean water is a precious commodity in California. Famine is still common in the world. Using precious water to grow food that no one will eat is insane. Oil is cheap, available, and more eco-conscious to use than plowing and tending vast acreage. As said, this is insane considering what is taken away from people for zero gain.

  2. 680 million gallons is an awful lot of used french fry oil. It seems awfully inefficient to be driving tankers around to all those McDonald’s restaurants to collect it. Therefore, I expect the main feedstock will be soybean oil. Like the ethanol plan before this, you will be diverting food production to unnecessary fuel production. I suppose the soybean farmers will like it, though, because it gives them an assured market at a steady price.

  3. 680 million gallons sounds like a lot, but that equates to about a 50,000 barrels per day refinery, which is on the small side for a modern refinery. The “average” refinery in the U.S. today is about 200,000 B/D with several operating at over 500,000 B/D. Still, that is a lot of waste cooking oil. On the plus side, the waste cooking oil has to be collected and disposed of anyway, so this is a much better solution than pouring it down some drain. Buying soybean oil will not compete much with food production since a significant amount of soy oil already goes into fuels production. It still leaves the solids portion of the soybean, which is mostly used as livestock feed.

    A properly designed hydrocracker unit can process anything from cooking oil to beef tallow and produce an excellent diesel or jet fuel product that is as good as any refined from crude. And, unlike jet fuel produced by the saponification process, it can be used full strength without the need to be mixed with conventional jet fuel to avoid congealing at low temperatures. The article mentions them producing diesel, gasoline and jet fuel. Diesel and jet are no problem, but gasoline would be a bit of a stretch. Gasoline’s lighter hydrocarbon constituents would take a lot more processing that would add considerable expense to its production. I suspect the product mix would be 90+ percent diesel and jet and a small amount of gasoline blend stock.

    • Yes, Hydrocracking units can process a broad spectrum of hydrocarbon input streams, but plant-based alkyl esters seems to be a stretch. A Hydrotreater (opposed to a cracker) would seem to offer better reaction conditions for the deoxygenation and desaturation route to bio-distillate. Can you send a link to a reference?

      I fully agree with your assessment of the gasoline production potential.

      Phillips is not the only refiner to convert to bio-distillate manufacturing amidst the Covid-19 downturn. Holly Frontier is converting their Cheyenne refinery and a few more older, smaller refineries will likely follow. The market might surprise some. California state-owned vehicles currently consume about 4 million bbl/yr of bio-diesel. Certainly much of the demand is driven by policy rather than economics but, we’d do well to remember that aviation would have died in it’s infancy if the US government hadn’t built the airmail infrastructure and heavily subsidized airlines with airmail contracts until they could stand on their own.

  4. No idea about the technical aspects of sustainable refining, but assume smart people at Phillips 66 have got that figured out. Same goes for the finance department. Oil companies are frantically working on survival strategies as the writing is on the wall. In flashing neon. Personally I would happily pay a premium for guilt-free, sustainable fuel, and there’s a good chance tax incentives might even make it cheaper one day. Side note to previous comment; how is clean water, which falls freely from the sky, less rare or renewable than oil?!

  5. Over the last few years, insufficient rain has fallen in California to meet demand. Add to that, poor management of the environment there means much of it goes to the sea rather than being redirected towards farms.

    I would bet this project is worse environmentally than traditional oil refining if you count all the factors, but that will not matter. All the externalities will get waived away with excuses.

    Hope it makes them all feel good.

  6. No clean water? What’s that blue stuff in the picture? My map suggests that there’s a fair amount of water just a few feet west of California and it continues for a few miles. I dare say Phillips will figure out way to remove any unwanted stuff from said water, and probably sell it to industry. Kudos to Phillips doing something to move away from not-very-renewable dino-juice.

    • After you use enormous amounts of energy to desalinate the sea water to use on the “renuable” crops and for fermentation, the energy equation goes from less-than-break-even to a huge loss. This not what people who understand physics would do.

  7. Refining waste oils and beef byproducts requires no more energy or water consumption than traditional crude processing. Plus, it makes a waste product, which has to be disposed of anyway, into a useful material. Waste cooking oils are already being collected and moved to central processing sites, so there is little extra energy required to move it to the refinery instead. California has very little soybean production (it’s mostly centered in the Midwest), so its current water problems are more impacted by growing almonds and similar crops that take much more water. Besides, California has frequent droughts and their basic mismanagement of the state’s water ecosystem, coupled with a huge population consume (waste?) far more water that any refinery. Phillips is obviously going to milk this for its PR value, but it is serving a useful purpose.

    • Arguably there is not a lot of waste oil from large producers; they already reuse it on-site for heat or already have buyers for it in other industries. It’s not “dumped” or “waste”, it itself is a product already used as a raw material. Secondly, their claim that making higher quality jet fuel is questionable since it has to meet the same spec as current Jet-A. The verbiage just sound like a re-do of the mid 1970’s craze HOWEVER there is no crude oil shortage to justify it today.

  8. “What’s with the negative vibes, Moriarity?” (Anyone remember the movie that’s from?)
    Clearly, Phillips has “done the math” and hopefully they can add 2+2 and get 4 most of the time. They face challenges but those are merely applying, and if necessary, inventing technology. Sure, CA has had water issues by the ton since the dawn of time. Have they handled them well, no. They are even in the process of removing at least one dam up near Shasta and I can’t for the life of me understand why. But then, CA has been LaLa land forever. Back to Phillips… Maybe they have found, or will find,or are working on a better way to desalinate sea water. With a minor miracle or two they might actually help ease that issue a bit.
    Their big plan at least sounds good overall. I will freely admit that while it would seem to be disingenuous, hey, CA is left-wing-econazi-homeland so if you can appear to play along to their insanity it will keep them out of your hair while you work to stay competitive in the industry and please your stockholders.
    We have long know that the various oils used in the food industry make reasonable fuel, so using more of an otherwise problem issue effectively will be great. One person mentioned that soy beans are generally not grown in CA. That is correct. Most are grown well east of the Rockies and even east of the Mississippi. Those farmers can grow a lot more than they do now and a good, stable, US market will be a boon to US agriculture. If the cost of these bio-fuels, especially diesel manage to drop some, that is good too.
    As to the US boom in oil… the resources of dino-fuel are finite. Sure we have a lot more than we knew about or could get at. Now we can. But, as I said, those are finite, they can become “all used up” some day. This project can be a way to push that “all gone’ date into the far future and begin the slow-steady-be smart about this march towards say hydrogen technology or even all electric.

    All-in-all I wish Phillips good luck and success on this project.

  9. Whether the anticipated return is in the form of direct profits, feel-good credit points with the ecos, preservation of an existing asset, or some combination, it’s Phillips’ choice to make, after all. That’s free enterprise at work – for a little longer anyway. Sit back and watch, we’ll see whose opinions prove out.

  10. There is nothing unproven or yet-to-be developed in the technology they are talking about. Animal and vegetable oil hydrocracking has been proven in other refineries around the country. Maybe Phillips is planning to scale it up for larger production, but it is nothing new. As for my comment about a superior quality jet fuel, I am referring to two things. First, conventional crude refined jet fuel, while it meets the required specifications, often contains small amounts of sulfur and trace heavy metals present in the crude oil. Refiners have to do additional processing to get the sulfur content below the permissible standard in crude derived jet. The vegetable derived jet has neither of those contaminates, which makes it “superior”, so no additional processing is needed. Second, the hydrocracker process makes a fuel that can be used as a stand-alone product. The more conventional saponification process for making jet and diesel from vegetable oils produces a material that is similar to jet, but cannot meet the low temperature pour point standard. It tends to gel at low temperatures, which is obviously not a good thing in a jet fuel. So, it has to be diluted with crude oil jet (usually 90% crude jet and 10% vegetable jet) so that it will not cause problems at high altitudes. Hydrocracker jet does not do that, so it can be mixed into the normal fuel pool with no other considerations. As for the water issue, the converted refinery will use no more water than a conventional refinery, and with added use of air cooled exchangers, it could actually use less water. A win-win all around. Oh, and they can actually use sea water as a cooling medium without having to desalinate it. Many California power plants use sea water for cooling on a closed-loop, once through design that could easily be adapted to refinery use.

    • With our project a question out to the crowd here. Some of you are way more knowledgeable than I am on these new fuels. What are the downsides of running Hydrocracker Jet Fuel in my airshow jet? Will there be a practical change in my thrust available? Is it compatible with all of my fuel system components or is there further mod needed? I run low altitudes with the jet most of the time. Airshows are of course, in the dirt….and even flying to and from events the jet flies in the upper teens, low 20’s. The final stages of our world record project will push this little jet to approximately FL600 so there is where things get weird… Any words of advice, wisdom or otherwise is appreciated.

  11. I wouldn’t worry about it. While the PR announcements say they will make both Jet and diesel, the bulk of the production will most likely be diesel. That’s because of its total absence of sulfur, it helps the general fuel pool meet the ultra low sulfur (ULSD) standard for highway diesel. Unless you live fairly close to a plant that produces the renewable jet, it is unlikely you will ever get any. In normal distribution, it will be pipelined into large storage tanks either at an airport or an intermediate storage terminal, where it would be mixed with regular jet from other sources, and diluted to the point of having no impact on what you would see at the fuel nozzle going into your plane. The dilution is not intentional to prevent any issues like the pour point limitations of saponified fuel, it is just the normal course of action for any jet (or any other refined fuel) in the delivery chain.