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Rodeo VP talks conversion: ‘It’s awe-inspiring what this team has done’

RODEO, California – When Jolie Rhinehart took over the San Francisco Refinery in 2022, she was surprised by the amount of planning required to transform the refinery into a renewable fuels facility.

“The facility conversion was moving forward like a high-speed train,” said Rhinehart, who has led several Phillips 66 refineries. “I had to get on the train and figure out how to lead the way.” 

Now vice president of the Rodeo Renewable Energy Complex, Rhinehart indeed figured it out, but not without help from a hard-working team.

We spoke to her about the facility’s conversion to one of the world’s largest renewable fuels facilities, which just achieved full production capacity.

  1. You’ve managed refineries that produce traditional fuels at several Phillips 66 refineries. How is managing the Rodeo Renewable Energy Complex different?

    We had to build a renewables value chain at Phillips 66 from scratch. We gather the feedstock and transport it to the facility, and then we process it here at Rodeo. Prior to the full conversion of Rodeo, we started up Unit 250 in April 2021, which uses soybean oil as its primary feedstock. Now with the other units coming online, we can run renewable feedstocks such as greases, fats and used cooking oil.  Processing renewable feedstocks at this scale is such a new and emerging technology compared to traditional petroleum refining. The yield varies depending on these feedstocks, and the intervals in which we will replace catalysts are different than in traditional hydrotreating. There are many industry experts who know about fluidized catalytic cracking units or hydrocrackers, but there’s not an infinite number of experts who know about renewables.

  2. What did it take to reach the company’s goal of 50,000 barrels a day by the end of the second quarter?

    We have executed a phased approach to Rodeo Renewed. In phase one, we completed the conversion of the first hydrocracker to process renewables. The next phase that took us to maximum capacity of 50,000 barrels per day was the conversion of the second hydrocracker. Phase three was getting our pre-treatment area online, which brings the business together because we can process a wider range of feedstocks with lower carbon intensity. That really puts us in a position to maximize the value of the business.

  3. Rodeo Renewed was four years in the making. What were your main objectives during the process?

    Phillips 66 conceived the project in 2019 and announced it in 2020. I joined Rodeo in May 2022 shortly after we received the land use permit. We needed to secure air permits that would allow us to start construction. We were able to carry out some pre-construction activities in 2022 and began construction in January 2023 after receiving those permits. We simplified objectives for the team to ensure a successful transition. We had two major goals during this period: operate our facility in a safe and environmentally sound manner, and flawlessly execute our conversion. All work that anybody at this facility carried out had to be in service to those two goals.

  4. How would you characterize the environmental benefits of the renewable energy complex?

    Compared to petroleum refining, producing renewable fuels reduces lifecycle carbon emissions by 8.5 million metric tons per year. That’s the equivalent of taking 1.4 million gasoline-powered cars off California roads each year. Also, the conversion cuts hazardous criteria air pollutant emissions by over 70% and greenhouse gas emissions by 38%. These are very substantial improvements that will help California meet its climate objectives.

  5. Lots of people worked to make the project a reality — Commercial, Marketing, Emerging Energy and Major Projects, to name a few. Who are the unsung heroes?

    Full credit goes to the entire Rodeo workforce. We have a group of people from the Prepare to Operate, turnaround, maintenance, operations, technical, HSE, HR and optimization organizations who did the preparations for the turnaround, whether it was the scope development, execution scheduling or shutdown procedures. The fact that they have executed the event so flawlessly is amazing. This is the largest by cost, scope and schedule duration of any turnaround we’ve ever done at Phillips 66. It’s awe-inspiring what this team has done.