1. Home
  2. News and insights
  3. Featured articles
  4. bp’s Cherry Point refinery turns feedstock into renewable diesel fuel. Here’s how.

bp’s Cherry Point refinery turns feedstock into renewable diesel fuel. Here’s how.

Release date:
6 May 2024
An aerial view of bp's Cherry Point refinery in Washington state, USA

In many ways, the world is clamoring for more low-carbon energy.

 

That’s why bp is aiming to boost biofuel production to nearly 50,000 barrels per day globally, by 2025. In Washington state, bp’s Cherry Point refinery is one of the most dynamic places where work toward this aim is taking shape.

 

Nearly two hour’s drive from Seattle and just south of the US-Canadian border, Cherry Point is the Pacific Northwest’s largest refinery, capable of processing approximately a quarter-million barrels of crude oil each day on average – much of it from North America.

 

Since opening in 1971, Cherry Point has mainly produced traditional fossil-based fuels.  In fact, it provides much of the jet fuel used at the Seattle-Tacoma and Vancouver international airports.

 

In 2018, Cherry Point began producing renewable fuels with lower lifecycle emissions than traditional fuels. Part of this was driven by policy: Washington state, California, Oregon and British Columbia have all passed initiatives to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by up to 20%. All of this has set the stage for accelerating the production of biofuels, partly through something called “co-processing.”

 

In co-processing, the refinery uses conventional crude oil along with biomass-based feedstocks, like food waste and beef tallow, to produce a blended fuel. It’s also one of the most efficient ways to reduce a fuel’s lifecycle emissions: co-processed renewable diesel can reduce the fuel’s carbon intensity by up to 30% compared with regular, fossil fuel-created diesel.

Headshot of Amber Russell, bp's SVP for refining
“We’re excited that Cherry Point continues taking steps towards a lower carbon future. This work shows the important role refining can play in helping both bp and the world to reach net zero.” Amber Russell, bp’s SVP for refining

Cherry Point is tapping into its existing infrastructure to help meet this demand: The refinery’s processing unit, which already makes fossil-based diesel, has been able to transition over to co-processing.

 

bp is involved in each stage of the process, from feedstock to end product. This lends the company tremendous technical and commercial advantages because we choose and purchase the feedstock, then process, distribute and sell the fuel.

 

Cherry Point now has the capability to co-process more than 7,000 barrels of renewable diesel fuel each day, about 2.6 million barrels each year. And it’s a drop-in fuel, meaning truck drivers can use it without any changes to the fleet.

 

Nigel Dunn, bp’s SVP for biofuels growth, said: “Biofuels have the potential to be one of the most cost-effective de-carbonization options available.”

 

Here are the basics of how co-processing works:

 

1. Identify the right feedstock

bp’s co-processing journey begins with choosing a feedstock. When Cherry Point first co-processed in 2018, the refinery started with beef tallow – which comes from slaughterhouses and rendering facilities. Today, Cherry Point also co-processes used cooking oil, canola oil, soybean oil and byproducts from the ethanol industry, among other materials.

 

That means we can change things on our end, like the renewable sources, but our customers don’t have to change a thing.  

 

bp’s trading team works with the refinery to choose the best feedstock based on its economics. Each type of feedstock trades at a different price. They consider the logistics of getting the feed to the refinery, as well as state and federal incentives. From there, the refinery considers how best to process the chosen feedstock.

A bp team member wearing protective gear works at Cherry Point refinery

2. Fuel is processed – and impurities removed

One of the refinery’s processing units – its hydrotreater – processes the renewable feedstocks alongside the conventional petroleum feedstocks.

 

One pipe brings in the traditional fossil feedstock, while another brings in the tallow or other bio-feedstock. Both fuels are then mixed before the system adds hydrogen at an elevated temperature to remove impurities – mostly sulfur.

 

The end product is a high-quality fuel that’s chemically identical to a diesel product made only through fossil fuels. In other words, it has the exact same performance. But the major difference is this fuel has lower lifecycle carbon emissions.

 

Beef tallow, used cooking oil, animal fats and byproducts from the ethanol industry are all waste products. Similar to recycling, bp repurposes them into a usable fuel.

 

By combining the biofeedstock, and traditional fossil fuel to make co-processed renewable diesel, bp reduces the amount of higher carbon fossil fuel, while increasing the amount of lower carbon bio feedstock to make its diesel.

 

3.  Distribute – and sell – low-carbon fuel

bp uses barges, ships, pipes, trains and trucks to distribute its fuel all over the US.

 

If you drive a diesel car or truck and fill up at a bp brand – perhaps ampm or TravelCenters of America (TA) on the West Coast – you may be buying renewable diesel produced at Cherry Point.

 

bp's traders consider different prices, credits and outlets to find the very best home for its renewable diesel. Some renewable diesel is sold to our bp-owned sites while some is sold in the marketplace to non-bp retailers.

The outside of an TravelCenters of America with bp gas station pumps
When bp sells co-processed renewable diesel fuel at company-owned brands like TravelCenters of America, it’s a key example of an integrated energy company in action. It’s also one of the reasons bp bought TA in 2023 – along with the fact that the TravelCenters brand gives the company access to 300 locations strategically placed along major US highways. The locations are large, sometimes 20-acre plots, that fulfill the needs of truck drivers, mostly, but also includes full-service restaurants, truck service centers, laundry facilities, pet areas and more.