Demand climbs for biodiesel fuel
The Pacific Northwest loves being green. Recycling got an early start here. Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks has scrambled to provide...
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — The Pacific Northwest loves being green. Recycling got an early start here. Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks has scrambled to provide bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee. State forest lands were the first in the West to earn "green certification" for environmentally sound management.
Now, with gasoline prices fluctuating in wallet-busting ranges and petroleum tainted in many minds by violence in the Mideast, demand for biodiesel is booming.
The vegetable-oil-based fuel can be burned in place of regular diesel or mixed in varying blends, with 20 percent biodiesel the most-common ratio.
The blends are a little pricier than petroleum diesel but loaded with "green" cachet — after all, they're made from soy or canola or recycled restaurant oils.
"Almost all of our customers run the highest blend that they can. Seattle is kind of unique in the nation," with private users pressing for the highest blends possible, said Dan Freeman of Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuelwerks in the Ballard neighborhood. "We have the highest concentration of individual users in the nation in the Puget Sound area."
Why buy it?
"Environmental reasons, political reasons, every reason," said landscaper Ann Magnano of Seattle, one of Freeman's customers. "It's about giving farmers the opportunity to keep farming ... helping the planet."
National Biodiesel Board: www.biodiesel.org
West Coast Collaborative: www.westcoastcollaborative.org
Breathable Bus Coalition: www.breathablebus.org
"I'd rather pay American farmers than Saudi kings," said Jeff Van Horn of Shoreline.
Biodiesel is available at specialty stations such as Freeman's and at a few regular stations and some heating-oil suppliers.
"When we first started this we ordered one railcar, 25,000 gallons," said Vince McBroom at Pacific Northwest Energy/SC Fuels in Tacoma, which supplies retailers. "When it arrived, we all scratched our heads, saying, 'What are we gonna do with it now?' ... We're doing 30,000 to 50,000 gallons a week now."
But it's going to be a while before biodiesel goes mainstream in the U.S.
At this point, between 3 percent and 4 percent of the nation's registered vehicles are diesel — well below the 49 percent in Europe, where higher gasoline prices long ago made diesel's 30-40 percent greater fuel efficiency appealing.
Meanwhile, the country isn't capable of replacing even the petroleum diesel it already uses with homegrown biodiesel.
"We don't have the acreage, the production capacity," said Peter Murchie at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Washington and Oregon hope to get in on the ground floor of domestic biodiesel production.
"We're trying to build a whole industry in this state, from growing to crushing to refining to using," said Matt Steuerwalt, energy aide to Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia all use biodiesel for at least some of their public transit and service vehicles.
But there have been supply problems, said Jim Boone, maintenance manager for Metro Transit in Seattle, which runs 340 of its 1,400 buses on B5 biodiesel, a mix of 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent ultra-low-sulfur petroleum diesel.
"They're not making enough of it yet," Boone said. "Sometimes we can't get it."
With two new 35-million-gallon-a-year plants coming on line in Minnesota and more in other states, shortages shouldn't be a problem, said spokeswoman Jenna Higgins at the National Biodiesel Board in Washington, D.C.
Washington officials are interested in canola oil as a source of biodiesel because it isn't as vulnerable to jelling at low temperatures as soy oil, the source of about 90 percent of U.S. biodiesel.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.