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Transformation: Why Flint Hills Resources' Pine Bend Refinery Is Looking to Solar

June 29, 2022

min read

Flint Hills Resources is building the largest single user solar project in the United States at its Pine Bend refinery in Rosemount, Minnesota. That might seem unexpected at a facility that provides much of the Upper Midwest’s gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, but for company officials focused on making the facility as efficient as possible, the 45-megawatt solar installation made perfect sense.  

“Pine Bend is already one of the most efficient refineries in the country, if not the world, but we are always looking for ways to continuously transform our business,” says Jake Reint, Flint Hills’ vice president of public affairs. “As one of the largest-of-its-kind solar installations, this project is a bold and exciting opportunity to lower energy costs, improve our energy efficiency, and reduce emissions.” 

FHR Pine Bend

Zak Potratz, the project engineering lead for the solar project, stands on the grounds at Flint Hills Resources' Pine Bend refinery that will soon hold more than 100,000 solar panels and generate 30% of the energy needed to power the refinery.

The project will sit on more than 300 acres of land next to the facility.

Flint Hills Resources will also plant native flowers and grasses around the solar project to create what’s known as a pollinator prairie. The plants will provide a valuable habitat for insects, such as the monarch butterfly and the rusty patched bumble bee. 

It will include more than 100,000 individual panels and at peak capacity will be able to supply Pine Bend with almost 30% of its power needs. Add that to the power generated by the facility’s recently completed Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system and nearly 70% of the facility’s power needs will come from highly efficient onsite energy generation. 

Jake said the refinery is always trying to improve its performance and its ability to efficiently produce the transportation fuels the world needs. Since 2000, the Pine Bend refinery has reduced its traditional criteria emissions by 70%. It’s also reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 10% since 2010. And the facility has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® certification as one of the most efficient refineries in the country for three years in a row. 

“Continuous improvement is foundational to who we are as a company,” he said. “We’re committed to prioritizing the health, safety and environment of the communities we operate in.” 

The project will be planned, designed and built by DEPCOM Power, a recently acquired Koch Engineered Solutions company based in Scottsdale, Arizona, that specializes in solar projects. 

As teams from Flint Hills and DEPCOM have worked together to plan this unique, first-of-its-kind project, they’ve been able to unlock mutual benefit for both companies. ​

“To be able to talk through and really understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it left us feeling a lot more comfortable about what we’re going to be installing at the plant,” said Zak Potratz, a project engineering lead at Flint Hills. 

DEPCOM project manager Dylan Rasmussen said working so closely with the power team at Flint Hills has helped them have a greater understanding of the unique needs of large industrial power users. It’s knowledge that will be invaluable as they begin to work with other large industrial companies interested in exploring the untapped benefits of similar solar projects. 

DEPCOM Power solar panels

“It’s good that we’ve been able to see how the Koch companies operate and share how our expertise in solar could be beneficial,” Dylan said. “It makes everything a lot more streamlined. We bring the solar expertise; they have the refinery expertise.”

The Pine Bend solar project is projected to be completed during the summer of 2023.