|SouthernEco, Alabama’s First Biodiesel Producer-Distributor|
Committed to Sustainable Energy
An environmental steward is following his vision to make a difference in communities with his business and sustainability practices.
Clay McInnis of Montgomery is a firm believer that positive change begins at home. Before graduating from Auburn University in 2009, McInnis launched SouthernEco, LLC, the first biodiesel producer and distributor in Alabama.
Biodiesel is a cleaner burning and cost effective alternative to regular diesel, and can be burned in almost any diesel engine without modifications. Cars, trucks, heavy equipment and diesel generators are among the engines biodiesel can fuel.
Biodiesel is better for the engine and the environment, domestically produced, renewable and safe.
SouthernEco produces sustainable biodiesel from local feedstocks and distributes its product locally. McInnis is also the Alabama representative and dealer for Springboard Diesel, a company in Chico, CA, which makes the biodiesel processors used to convert waste oil into fuel.
SouthernEco manufactures custom pre-fabricated modular biodiesel units for schools, colleges, city governments, prison systems, private companies and personal use. The modular biodiesel units are transportable, turnkey operations fitting in small areas, and are equipped to make biodiesel for buses and fleet vehicles for less than a dollar a gallon.
Both companies work to produce biodiesel fuel in an affordable, efficient and user-friendly process.
SouthernEco’s modular biodiesel facility operates at the town of Hampstead, a sustainable community where residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, use organic waste for compost and rely on wind to power water.
Conveniences lie within a five minute walk of homes, and residents have the option of meeting all of their needs without the use of a vehicle. Residents can easily make a short walk up the road to sell their produce to local restaurants.
A 20-foot portable storage container behind a large, delightful red barn houses the equipment the company uses to convert waste oils from restaurants into biodiesel fuel.
Besides Hampstead’s Ham and High, McInnis collects waste and vegetable oils from about nine other restaurants within the city.
After production, SouthernEco distributes the fuel to local construction companies. The biodiesel fuel also helps build local housing developments.
McInnis owns three trucks, all running on biodiesel fuel.
McInnis and his team at SouthernEco decreased production of the modular biodiesel unit to a smaller, local scale. He said the process and distribution involved with production on a larger scale missed the point.
McInnis said the large plant emissions and costly means of transportation involved with a larger scale model were harmful to the system. The modular biodiesel units are transportable and easily moved by trucks minimizing material resource costs.
McInnis said his type of business must take advantage of the local economy. One of his company’s missions is to replace nationally and internationally-produced items with products created locally and regionally.
"It’s a shame our society has to wake up dramatically with an oil spill," McInnis said. "We are literally dependent on oil for everything."
SouthernEco is committed to creating green collar jobs—biodiesel production has the potential to multiply the number of jobs available, benefit citizens and spur the economy in Alabama.
"I’m interested in getting the product in people’s hands," McInnis said.
McInnis said agriculture is an important market for biodiesel and the product could provide financial opportunities for farmers with an acre of soybeans equaling 55 gallons of biodiesel.
"You can grow your own fuel," McInnis said.
SouthernEco consults with local businesses and institutions to create sustainable business models.
According to SouthernEco, sustainable business practices include taking responsibility for the effects of their actions on the natural world; not requiring exotic sources of capital to develop and grow; creating quality, durable objects that will not harm future generations; changing consumers to customers through education and engaging in production processes that are human, worthy, dignified and intrinsically-satisfying.
"It’s about treating people and the planet well, and making a profit," McInnis said of his business philosophy.
His company also educates middle school and high school students around the Montgomery area on the importance of sustainability.
SouthernEco defines sustain-ability as living within the limits of nature, recycling everything, practicing conservation and efficiency, and thinking locally.
McInnis said our grandparents practiced sustainability, but over the years our society has veered off course by consuming and growing more at an unsustainable rate.
He said meetings with co-ops and universities are a way to increase awareness of the benefits of biodiesel production. He felt this type of business should empower farmers and municipalities.
McInnis realized the need for the decentralization of alternative fuel while participating in a co-op program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There he was inspired with the idea for his company.
McInnis earned a degree in Entrepreneur and Family Business with a minor in Sustainability from Auburn University. He was one of the first three students to earn the Sustainability minor.
McInnis served as the SGA Environmental Liaison his junior year and President of the Auburn Sustainability Action Program his senior year.
He worked on the business plan for SouthernEco in 2008, and launched the company before graduating in ’09.
McInnis has been in the energy business for well over two years now.
This environmental steward is working hard to make a difference at home, and lives by his belief that only profit can come from treating people and the planet well.
Jade Currid is an intern with Cooperative Farming News.