Kolmar Group AG's U.S. unit has bought a small Connecticut biodiesel plant, the Swiss commodities trader's first ever acquisition of an asset, in a move that may stir hopes of renewed investment for the struggling biofuel sector.
Expanding beyond its trading roots, Kolmar Americas Inc, the American arm of a firm that handles petrochemicals, petroleum products and renewable fuels, has bought the Greenleaf Biofuels LLC facility in New Haven, Connecticut, company said in a statement on Monday.
The plant, now named American GreenFuels LLC, marks Kolmar's first foothold in physical production.
With capacity of about 15 million gallons, it is relatively small for the 2-billion gallon U.S. biodiesel market but is the largest biodiesel plant in New England.
"The acquisition in a relatively young industry seemed to make sense ... we can grow be a different kind of company going forward," said Paul Teta, vice president and general counsel at Kolmar Americas. "We have eyes open for what's next."
The acquisition gives room for Kolmar to be a more significant biodiesel player even as an increasing number of producers sell their fuel directly, Teta said.
The biodiesel industry has a few large players like Renewable Energy Group Inc. and is otherwise fairly fragmented.
Kolmar, a major importer of the biofuel, previously had a tolling arrangement with the Connecticut plant.
Teta declined to disclose the terms of the deal.
Though the acquisition was planned before recent U.S. government moves to boost biofuels, the purchase may spark hopes of renewed investment for an industry that has been hit by weak oil prices and policy uncertainty.
The U.S. government announced in late November targets for renewables use. For biodiesel, the targets were seen as relatively ambitious through 2017.
It marks the first time in years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given the industry forward-looking mandates for use of biodiesel, ethanol and other renewables.
Separately, the U.S. government also provided a boost to the industry by extending a tax credit to fuel blenders which use biofuel, deciding in December to retroactively renew it for 2015 and extend it into the upcoming year.
The incentives encourage use of the renewable fuel, which tends to trade at a sharp premium to its petroleum-based competition.
"People are likely to start to look at investment in the industry again, whereas last year we couldn't" due to uncertainty over the mandates and the tax credit, Teta said.