Biodiesel use growing in America

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law Tuesday, Oct. 4 allowing public agencies to use vehicles that can run off biodiesel blends.

The California law was signed less than a week after Minnesota became the first state to mandate a 2 percent biodiesel mix for all diesel fuel, and a day after a Texas company announced plans to build a biodiesel plant on Galveston Bay.

“Californians have always led the way in protecting our lands and oceans and pioneering new forms of energy use that reduce our reliance on foreign fuels,” Schwarzenegger said. “Today, we are continuing that proud legacy with new legislation that will decrease our dependence on foreign oil and encourage the use of cleaner-burning domestic fuels.”

The proposal was written by state Sen. Roy Ashburn, a Republican representing Bakersfield, home to American Biofuels, a major biodiesel plant.

“By using biodiesel, we can reduce dependency on foreign oil by up to 20 percent,” Ashburn said.

The facility will expand to produce as much as 10 million gallons of biodiesel annually by the end of the year, and further expansions will increase production to 35 million gallons annually, a company executive told the Central Valley Business Times.

Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative diesel fuel that contains no petroleum. It is produced from domestic, renewable resources and is as much as 75 percent cleaner than fossil-derived fuels, eliminating an engine’s need to use sulfur as a lubricant. Made from soybeans, agricultural oils and fats, or recycled restaurant grease, it can be blended with petroleum diesel to be used in diesel engines with little or no modification.

One of the major criticisms of biodiesel is that the fossil fuel needed to produce it is equal to that saved from its use. But proponents say that as technology gets better, the fuel needed to refine it becomes less and less.

Another criticism has been biodiesel’s expense compared to traditional diesel, but record prices at the pump for traditional diesel have made biodiesel’s price more competitive and its stable resource base more attractive.

Minnesota’s 2-percent law was passed in 2002 but did not go into effect until the state could produce the necessary amounts of biodiesel.

The state now has three working biodiesel plants that can produce a combined 63 million gallons of biodiesel per year, far exceeding the 8 million gallon minimum needed to trigger the 2-percent mandate, said Ralph Groschen, senior agriculture marketing specialist for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

“Even without the mandate, more than 200 gas stations in the state offer the biodiesel blend,” Groschen said. “One station not only sells B2 (2 percent blend), but offers B20 (20 percent) and B100 (pure biodiesel) as well.”

In Texas, meanwhile, TexCom signed a letter of intent Monday, Oct. 3 with LBC Houston to build and operate a 30-million-gallon-capacity biodiesel plant at LBC Houston’s bulk liquid storage terminal in Seabrook, on Galveston Bay between Houston and Galveston.

The Texas plant will refine virgin soybean oil into biodiesel and store it onsite. Since conventional petroleum diesel also is stored there, TexCom will have the option of blending and marketing B20 and other biodiesel blends, besides B100.

“By locating our biodiesel production unit at an existing bulk terminal facility, we will be reducing our initial capital cost for the project and, at the same time, increasing our capability to serve the local fuels distribution market,” said Louis Ross, TexCom president.

Plans call for construction to start before the end of the year and for the plant to be fully operational by October 2006.

Already pumping nothing but biodiesel is Carl’s Corner truck stop on Interstate 35 south of Dallas. Owner Carl Cornelius and country music legend Willie Nelson are backing BioWillie, a B20 biodiesel blend made from vegetable oils. “Trucks get more pulling power with it,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius pointed out that the man for whom the diesel engine is named, the French-German inventor Rudolf Diesel, always intended his invention to run on vegetable oil as well as petroleum.

“The diesel engine was designed by Mr. Diesel to run on peanut oil,” Cornelius said. “We’re going back to doing what the engine was designed for.”