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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, July 23, 2004

News

Door on biodiesel opened

Diesel drivers take hit for the environment


By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer

Move over bacon. Wendy Bevins, a cook and a mom, is bringing home the veggies. She prefers vegetarian food, itís true, but her latest concoction brings the power of soy and other plants home to the family in a whole new way.

Wendy Bevins holds her daughter Lena at the Board Ranch where Bevins pumps B100 diesel fuel from a 60-gallon drum. The alternative fuel burns cleaner than regular diesel and is more expensive, but Bevins feels good about the sacrifice for the environment. Photo by Chris Pilaro

As the first Wood River Valley resident to avail herself of 100 percent biodiesel fuelócommonly known as B100óavailable through Brico of Idaho Inc., Bevins will feed the appetite of her 1999 Ford F250 diesel V8 with vegetable energy, along with her baby.

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification. The process leaves behind two productsómethyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin, usually sold to be used in other products like soap.

B100 fuel comes from Salt Lake City, but Brico mixes its petroleum blends, B20 and B20 low sulfur, locally.

"Iím hoping that other people might get inspired to invest in it as well," Bevins said. "Enough people in the valley have diesel trucks. If they would want to buy it, it would help bring the price down because itís really expensive."

Running as high as $3.65 a gallon during summer months, prices for straight B100 peak with the heavy demand for B20, used in agricultural machinery.

Biodiesel can also be restaurant grease that is filtered and thinned with solvents.

Some mom and pop producers tap the source of the nationís appetite for French fries to produce their own biodiesel, according to the Web site www.GoBiodiesel.org, a Portland, Ore.-based biodiesel cooperative and information clearinghouse.

Time to kick down for the environment, Sean Sanderson, left, and Scott Douglas compare notes before finalizing a transaction for the purchase of B100 biodiesel fuel from the Brico depot in Hailey. Express photo by Matt Furber

Typically the substance is mixed with regular diesel and burned in engines with industrial and agricultural uses, said Carl Browning, the Hailey Brico manager. Owners of private vehicles with an environmental bent are also looking more to biodiesel.

He does not see biodiesel as the solution to domestic oil dependency, but it is part of diversifying resources.

"If we were relying just on Biodiesel, production of making the product would be costly," he said.

Speaking Monday on the campaign trail at the Boone County Millwork Showroom and Production Facility in Columbia, Mo., the Missouri Soybean Association reported that Vice President Dick Cheney made a plug for a biodiesel tax incentive as he lectured on the importance of the Energy Bill, which is currently stalled in Congress.

"That bill includes within it significant incentives for biodiesel and ethanol," Cheney said. "It's very important, we think, to go down that road because it will help us to diversify our supplies, but it also will reduce the extent to which we're dependent on foreign sources of oil for our basic transportation. It's a very good piece of legislation. We need to get it done."

As the process of making biodiesel gets more efficient, costs could go down, Browning said.

The fuel will be cheapest for soybean farmers who can process the fuel to use in their machines for cultivating their crops, but for some choosing the environmental alternative is worth the extra cost.

"Itís kind of a sticker shock," Browning said.

Half of the Brico pickup fleet runs on biodiesel, B20, said Sean Sanderson, a Brico salesman and delivery driver. The company is trying to shift more of its vehicles to the renewable energy source.

"You do what you can do where you can do it," he said, while filling the 30-gallon tank of a Dodge pickup with B100 Tuesday for Hailey resident Scott Douglas. Douglas had been contemplating making the switch to biodiesel for some time. Unfortunately, the $3 he had expected to pay per gallon had jumped to $3.65 the day he made his appointment to buy a tank full.

"That was a pick up payment there," Sanderson said after completing the transaction. "Ainít a farmer in this world that can afford that stuff. Youíre going to have to park it and ride a bike to pay for it."

Fortunately for Douglas he does like to ride a bike and the environmental value is worth the sacrifice.

"If you think about it what we put in our vehicles is our largest ecological footprint," said Mark Plourde, a guide passing through town with his 1987 diesel Suburban. "The most energy we spend is getting ourselves around."

The economics of ecology may be difficult to justify when the choice adds an extra $1.50 to the cost of a gallon of fuel, but Douglas said the externalities, or the long-range impact of the choice could pay off for the environment in the future.

The choice has filtered into the halls of higher education as well. The University of Idaho recently received a USDA grant of $250,000 per year for five years for biodiesel education.

As biodiesel becomes more mainstream the grassroots of the alternative seems to have come from people learning on the street.

Plourde shared a story about a client from a recent trip he was guiding who owns a sushi restaurant in Taos, N.M. He said she processes the cooking grease from her restaurant and processes it herself to use in her Volkswagon Golf, which gets 55 miles to the gallon. The homemade fuel costs her 35 cents a gallon.

Brico plans to keep a 1000-gallon tank in Hailey to meet the growing demand, but the straight B100 fuel will be available by appointment only for the time being, Sanderson said.

In Denver, demand for biodiesel is so great that the city is promoting 10 biodiesel pumps, which opened this summer. One pump is located in an area of the city known as having some of the worst air quality.

The idea of not being part and parcel to the oil industry and supporting a new resource appealed to Bevins so much that she bought a 60 gallon barrel and brought it home to the Board Ranch.

"Itís why I bought this damn truck. To run it on veggies," she said. "It smells like a fry from McDonalds but milder and the exhaust is clear not black. Itís cleaner and it makes the diesel engine quieter."

Douglas will have to change the fuel filter on his Dodge since it has been running on regular diesel until now. The solvents in biodiesel clean out the engine and keep it running for longer, Plourde said.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.





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