Biodiesel provides earth-friendly option

September 3, 2005

With diesel prices rising above three dollars a gallon in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many diesel-driving motorists are seeking cheaper, alternative fuels. And for consumers wishing to buy in bulk, that opportunity has arisen.

Biodiesel is a biodegradable diesel fuel made from renewable materials such as vegetable oil, tallow and recycled cooking oil. The fumes from biodiesel engines are shown to be better for the environment than petrodiesel, and the exhaust smells like french fries, according to some.

Currently, the only two places to buy biodiesel in the valley are Clem’s Country Store in Odell, which sells a 20 percent blend (B20) for around $3.10 a gallon, and Valley Ag Service, Inc., in Parkdale, which sells a 99 percent blend (B99) in either 55- or 275-gallon containers for around $3 a gallon.

The primary local connection to biodiesel stems from Camille Hukari, a valley orchardist whose diesel-run farm equipment used to produce exhaust that would make her violently ill.

“It made me sicker than hell,” she said. “Within 30 minutes, I’d be throwing up.” The problem would be so bad that Hukari would generally have to stop working halfway through the day.

That was the case, anyway, until her husband, Jerry Tausend, started fueling the tractors with biodiesel.

“I sent out a survey last summer to growers in the valley, and asked them if they would be willing to pay more for biodiesel,” Tausend said. “The majority of those who responded said that they would, so I contacted SeQuential Biofuels and Valley Ag.”

Before Tausend sent out the survey, he had been commuting to Portland for biodiesel in 55-gallon drums. Now, after contacting SeQuential and Valley Ag, he can buy it in 275-gallon totes.

Interest in biodiesel has risen so much in the valley that Tyson Keever, managing partner for SeQuential Biofuels in Eugene, came to the Pine Grove Grange Hall and gave a presentation about biodiesel to more than 20 diesel-driving locals on June 16.

“Switching to biodiesel really is the simple choice,” Keever said, explaining that biodiesel is compatible with any diesel engine with very little — if any — modification. But drivers do need to keep in mind what SeQuential calls the “three C’s of pure biodiesel.”

The first C is the cleaning effect that biodiesel will have on the car’s engine. “After the first few tanks, you may need to replace your fuel filter,” Keever said.

If the vehicle has been run on petrodiesel, sediments will accumulate and stick to the fuel tank, forming layers of sludge. When biodiesel gets run through the fuel lines, however, these deposits will dissolve and can cause your fuel filter to clog. “This won’t be a problem after the first few tanks,” Keever said.

The second C — and perhaps the most important of the three — is compatibility with rubber. Biodiesel corrodes natural rubber parts, such as hoses and seals, in the fuel delivery system. Generally, natural rubber parts only appear in vehicles manufactured before 1993. After that, car manufacturers began using synthetic or metal parts almost exclusively. “You won’t need to change your fuel lines immediately,” said Keever, “but if you have an older car, you will need to change them eventually.”

The third and final C stands for cold flow. Like any diesel fuel, biodiesel will gel at low temperatures; however, the gel point for biodiesel is higher than petrodiesel. When the temperature drops below 50 degrees, it is recommended that you mix your biodiesel in equal parts with petrodiesel. “A good rule to remember is, ‘If it drops below 50, blend B50,’” Keever said.

The small hassle of these three considerations, though, is offset drastically by the environmental benefits of biodiesel. “Last year, Oregon drivers cut 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by using biodiesel,” Keever said. “That’s the equivalent of taking 3,638 cars off the roads.”

The advent of biodiesel technology comes at a time when the future of the world’s oil supply is in jeopardy. “In 1970, we hit the halfway point of all the possible oil reserves in the world,” Keever said. “We probably will never run out of oil; but we will run out of affordable oil. We will need alternate fuel.”

At the pump, though, the cost of biodiesel is more than that of petrodiesel, and this causes some would-be biodiesel users to stick to petroleum. At Clem’s Market in Odell, currently the only local service station to sell the product, biodiesel is up to 10 cents more expensive than its petroleum counterpart purchased elsewhere.

Awareness and availability, along with cost, are large factors keeping biodiesel from use by the general population. “The biggest one is awareness. People just don’t know that it’s out there,” said Keever. “It’s also hard to find someone who’s willing to sacrifice an existing product.”

In addition to the environmental benefits, there is one perk that Hukari says is priceless. “When it’s 90 degrees outside and I’m in the middle of my crew on the tractor, french fries smell a lot better than diesel,” she said. “There’s a comfort level, too, and you can’t put a price on that.”

The B99 can be mixed with petrodiesel directly in the tank to make whatever mixture is preferred, but because the biodiesel is heavier it is recommended that the petrodiesel be put in the tank first so the two will mix better.

“Biodiesel is a great alternative,” said Tausend, “and it’s just the right thing to do.”

For more information about biodiesel, please contact Valley Ag Service, Inc., at 352-7576.

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