Saturday, December 13, 2008

Diesel Particulate Filters

Newer diesel vehicles being sold often have Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs) which reduce particulate emissions by trapping them in a filter in the exhaust system. To prevent the filter from plugging, fuel is sent into the exhaust system at intervals to burn off the particulates.

There are a couple problems with this system:
  1. extra fuel is used to burn the particulates, which reduces overal MPG.
  2. extra CO2 emissions are released when burning up the particulates.
  3. Biodiesel, which vaporizes a higher temperature than petroleum diesel, doesn't function the same way in the system, and fuel ends up in the engine crankcase rather than clearing the DPF. [1]
If you have a newer diesel vehicle you may want to investigate these issues before running biodiesel. A good discussion of the issues, with links to more information, can be found here:

[1] It depends on how the system is designed, of course. The problem is caused by using the fuel injectors in the cylinder to place additional fuel into the exhaust gases. Since biodiesel doesn't vaporize per the system design, some of it stays in the cylinder and leaks past the piston rings into the crankcase. If the additional fuel is squirted into the exhaust pipe, and not the cylinder, then you bypass the problem of fuel getting into the crankcase. But that is more complex and maintenance intensive (additional dedicated fuel injectors).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Visit to potential demonstration algae biofuels site

We made a trip today to the site for our proposed algae biofuels demonstration plant. The land, near 19th Ave. and Lower Buckeye Road, just southeast of downtown Phoenix, is really perfect in many respects: great water and power infrastructure, close to downtown but zoned industrial, flat and sunny. The quality of the land coupled with some progress we're making on the grant funding side has me in a state of optimism and excitement with the project at the moment -- which, of course means that the next iteration of frustration and despair is just around the corner, but we'll take what we can get.  :-)

Pictured above (l-to-r) are Grey Fowles, who is helping us with some architectural renderings; Sam West, who is doing superb work as the project lead for DBI on this effort; Mike Bellefeuille of XL Renewables, a potential partner in the effort and a deep expert on algae; and Jeff Collier of Energy Derived, another potential partner and, like Mike, a deep algae expert.      

A couple of other photos of the proposed site below.

Monday, December 1, 2008

EPA releases biodiesel plant manual

This compliance assistance manual serves as a road map of information on federal environmental programs and federal, state, and local agency roles as they apply to parties interested in designing, building, and operating biodiesel manufacturing facilities.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Phoenix reportedly creates biodiesel task force

The Arizona Republic is reporting that City of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has created a task force to "help educate residents on the hazards of skirting permits, codes and existing regulations" to produce homemade biodiesel:

Joe McElvaney, a Phoenix fire protection engineer, said the city requires a permit to handle the flammable and combustible materials used in biodiesel. But many home brewers ignore zoning regulations and waste-disposal requirements.

The story has also been picked up by the New York Times:

Saturday, November 22, 2008


We're in the process of re-launching our website and incorporating this blog into our site, and thus have been holding off on creating much new material on the blog hosted here. In the interim, though, I wanted to touch quickly on a few miscellaneous items:
  • We're thrilled to have Dave Conz doing some guest blogging with us. Our original "who's who" post on Dave is here.
  • The EPA released a new study "Environmental Laws Applicable to Construction and Operation of Biodiesel Production Facilities," found here. (hat tip: Gerry Darosa)
  • AZ Biodiesel's launch, and the sale of Amerco biodiesel at Western States Petroleum, is a Huge Friggin' Deal for those of us focused on sustainable regional biofuels in AZ. These two developments combined are really momentous.
  • We're looking forward to working with the new City of Phoenix task force on biodiesel homebrew safety. AZ Republic article here.
  • Anybody out there on Twitter? I was initially skeptical, but have been enjoying it recently. Many (well, some) of my posts are biofuels-related, if anyone is interested.
  • We had the great pleasure and privilege of speaking at the AZ Entrepreneurship Conference this past week. An amazing conference and fantastic group of people -- our deep thanks to the organizers for the opportunity.
  • Lastly, here's a photo of the AZ Biodiesel pump (taken this morning):

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

AZ Biodiesel update: B99 for $2.50/gal

From Dan Rees:

99.9% BioDiesel only $2.50 per gallon

Our pump is now open:
9-9 M-F and
9-1 on Saturday

No appointment necessary.

10% discount on 250 gallons or more and free delivery available. Deposit required for our barrels or totes.

Map of our pump location on our web site:


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Diesels I'd like to see here!

Although Dave's Mercedes-Benz is cool, no doubt, there are a couple current vehicles I really wish we could get our hands on in the US:

Toyota Hilux 4x4

Subaru Forester AWD

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dream Car

Last week, after years of searching, I bought my dream car. It is a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300CD Turbodiesel coupe in Anthracite Gray. The turbo coupes have been in high demand in recent years for several reasons. First, they are the best looking diesel coupes ever imported into the US (The Isuzu Imark and the ultra rare Jetta coupe are the only others I know of), and the turbos were only available from 1982-1985. Second, they look really cool due, in part, to the lack of B pillars (when all the windows are down there are no vertical obstructions, contributing to a sleek look). Third, they are very durable. Mine has over 205,000 miles on it (my '79 300SD has 274,000 and is still going strong) and has been equipped with a Lovecraft WVO system. More next time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Amereco selling WVO bio in the Valley

James Towner over at is reporting that Amereco is also now selling WVO biodiesel in the Valley, at Western States Petroleum in downtown Phoenix.

Unfortunately there is still no mention of it on either the Amereco or WSP websites, but local reporter Daniel Burnette has also confirmed the availability of Amereco's biodiesel at WSP via an article he published last week in the Phoenix Business Journal.

Monday, November 3, 2008

AZ Biodiesel's first customer

Went down to AZ Biodiesel's location in Gilbert today and when I contacted Dan to confirm my appointment, I was told to "bring a dollar bill", since I would be their first commercial sale, and they wanted a keepsake from this significant event in their company's history.

Glad to oblige Dan, and congratulations...

BTW, this dollar was duly deducted from my CC bill :-)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's for sale !!!!!!!!

That's a quote, by the way.

From Dan Rees:
$2.99 a gallon !!!!!! CHEAP !!!
Cash or most major CC's

By appointment only.
No drop-in's please.

We have 55 gallon barrels available for a $10 deposit each.

You can fill into your own vessel and your vehicle.

Because we are not a regular gas station, we must require appointments.

Email requests are best.
We have very limited staff to answer all the phone calls we get.

We're working on a better way that keeps officials happy and everyone safe and organized.

Thanks for your support!!!


You can find out more at AZ Biodiesel's website:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Almost there!

It was with a real sense of excitement that Brad and I ventured out to the new home of AZ Biodiesel in Gilbert this Saturday (Oct 11). Having moved twice in the last six months, AZ Biodiesel has faced daunting challenges to get to the point they are now: nearly ready to begin full-scale production of B100 (100% biodiesel) made from recycled restaurant grease.

Dan Rees and his son Richie gave us a tour of their new facility, and we spent a couple hours discussing the numerous obstacles they've had to overcome, and some they still face, to get their business off the ground.

Their test batches are dialed, and except for a few new (and rather esoteric) testing requirements, they will be ready to begin selling to the public very soon.

AZ Biodiesel is really the best example we have of the community-based commercial model of local biofuels that DBI is championing: local restaurants giving their grease to a local company, which in turn makes ASTM-spec fuel to be sold locally. Environmentally and economically: what a huge win for our community.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Home biodiesel producer safety video

A video has been posted on YouTube by the University of Idaho on Biodiesel Safety, specifically targeted at home biodiesel producers. Hosted by Dr. Jon Van Gerpen, head of the Biological & Agricultural Engineering Dept of the University of Idaho. Runtime: 8:26.

Addresses common hazards associated with biodiesel production and how to minimize risks.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mark Edwards - Green Independence

Mark Edwards is a close friend of and a key strategic advisor to our Desert Biofuels Initiative effort. We're very pleased to be partnering with Mark to help him advance some components of his global "Green Independence" vision.

Mark is a professor in the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness at ASU and the author of Biowar I -- which focuses on problems associated with corn ethanol, among other issues -- and Green Algae Strategy, which lays out a compelling vision for how algae can solve critical global fuel and food problems. We've found Mark's vision to be inspiring, and we're striving to implement aspects of his vision in an algae biofuels demonstration plant project we're exploring with Mark and a number of other team members.

Mark has generously agreed to allow us to post some documents he's authored that capture some of his thinking on Green Independence and related topics (all in .pdf):

Mark has also made available reviewer copies of his full Green Algae Strategy manuscript that we can provide electronically upon request (to brad-at-desertbiofuels-dot-org).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

DBI policy projects for Fall '08

(l-to-r) C. Thomson-Jones, P. Arambula, E. Menkhus (TVSG Director), S. Howe

Our relationship with ASU's Technology Ventures Services Group (formerly Technology Ventures Clinic) continues to be exciting and productive for DBI. This Fall we have three extremely talented students joining us, to work on two projects. The projects are:

1. A market analysis of biofuels feedstocks in Arizona, focusing on (a) waste vegetable oil, (b) region-suitable agricultural feedstocks, and (c) algae. The goal of the project is to gather facts about precisely what is happening in AZ in connection with these feedstocks (e.g. how much WVO is there? where is it currently going? what agricultural feedstocks looks promising for our region? etc.) . Our hope is that this sort of data will enable regional biofuel producers to make solid investment decisions and will help policymakers who are interested in advancing the regional production of biofuels. This project is an expansion and continuation of the project that we launched this past summer.

2. An analysis of state-level legislative initiatives aimed at promoting biofuels that have been enacted in other states. The goal of this project to accumulate data that may be helpful to Arizona policymakers interested in advancing the production of sustainable biofuels locally.

The students are:
  • Pete Arambula, a third year J.D. student with an M.A. in Physiological/Experimental Psychology and professional interests in biotech, health science, civil rights and sustainability.
  • Sarah Howe, a junior in the undergraduate chemical engineering program at ASU's Barrett Honors College. Sarah has biodiesel homebrewing experience and a deep interest in environmental engineering.
  • Carrie Thomson-Jones, a J.D. student and former entrepreneur and business owner. She brings deep business experience and savvy to our projects, plus has the additional incentive of hoping for success of our mission so that she can regularly run her VW TDI on biodiesel.
We've set up email addresses for each in the format "".

We're grateful to Eric Menkhus and the entire team at the Technology Ventures Services Group for all of their support.

Friday, September 5, 2008

US Fire Administration on Homemade Biodiesel

The US Fire Administration has posted portions of a "non-sensitive Situational Awareness Bulletin" regarding biodiesel production, specifically homemade biodiesel. Targeted at first responders, note that the bulletin includes the following:
"The overall process [of making biodiesel] is legal and relatively safe when properly performed."

It goes on to list some of the potential hazards, and notes:
"If the [home] processors are not careful, they can poison or burn themselves, and modifications to pressure vessels by inexperienced people can result in possible explosions."

Thanks to Hans Huth for the referral.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Unfortunate / Opportunity

Just a few days ago (8/24) there was a report of an explosion and fire at a residence in Surprise. It has been reported that oily rags caught fire and ignited methanol stored in a garage. The homeowner had been making biodiesel "from a kit". Fortunately no one was injured, but the hapless homebrewer unintentionally gave biodiesel, especially "homebrew biodiesel", a black eye.

While DBI remains favorably disposed toward the idea of individuals producing their own fuel [1], there are very real safety and legal obligations in making biodiesel. One of my realizations after making biodiesel for a while was that it just wasn't reasonable to expect that a family in a residential area could make themselves fuel self-sufficient. [2]

While some would assert that no amount of biodiesel can be safely made at home, I still believe the issue to be resolved is how much is too much? Some folks are going to do what they will, regardless of what anyone says, but for those who are trying to be good neighbors while they pursue their homebrew activities a couple things seem obvious:

1) Making a "Dr. Pepper" batch is a perfectly reasonable example of homebrew biodiesel, even in a residential setting.

2) Making hundreds of gallons per week for a "cul-de-sac biodiesel coop" is not. [3]

The question is: where on that continuum -- between a liter test batch and hundreds of gallons for friends and neighbors -- can a reasonable person say "this is (or should be) permitted" in a residentially zoned area. And I mean this activity is permitted in the sense of "non-interference" from the authorities, not sanctioned or licensed by them. The City of Gilbert has a forward-thinking approach on this issue, based on work done by the Arizona Emergency Response Commission.

Anyone who is currently contemplating "homebrewing" biodiesel would be well-advised to do some extensive investigation into the safety and legality of making fuel at their residence. A great starting place is Hans Huth's excellent "Biodiesel 101", which is an updated (and improved) version of a widely used homebrewer's guidebook, and has the additional benefit of Arizona-specific legal/tax information.

What may be an even better alternative is to join a biofuels cooperative, such as Dynamite Biofuels Co-op. This leverages the experience of persons who have been doing this for years, and neatly side-steps the idea of residential fuel production altogether.

[1] Brad put his thoughts into a dbi-workshop forum post which I think neatly captures our thinking:
"Re homebrewing, while I'm not a homebrewer myself, I personally remain favorably disposed to homebrewing, subject to a few serious caveats. I admire the do-it-yourself, self-sufficient culture that homebrewing embodies -- it seems somehow quintessentially American. I like too that homebrewing is a manifestation of an extremely decentralized model of fuel production -- I think the trend towards decentralization in fuel production is good for everyone except a few petrol fuel stakeholders. And homebrewers meet our "running code" test: they have been getting sustainable biodiesel into fuel tanks and on the road for years, with all of the attendant air quality and other benefits. The grassroots energy of homebrewers has significantly helped the adoption of biofuels. Plus there's an element of liberty: people should be free to pursue their homebrewing interests (and put non-ASTM tested fuel into their own personal vehicles) unless and until they create unwarranted risk for others."

[2] I use about 15-20 gallons of biodiesel a week. Add an additional vehicle (or three, in my case, if I count my two sons, who both wanted in on this deal :-) and let's say for round numbers 40 gals of biodiesel a week. That means processing 45-50 gals of oil per week, which uses over 10 gals of methanol and approx. 3 lbs. of catalyst. I would also have to dispose of at least 15 gals of glycerol/soap and, if water washing, more than 80 gals of high BOD wash water a week. Keeping enough methanol around to avoid running every week to get it, and enough catalyst for same, means we've probably moved beyond what could be considered reasonable in my home. However, doing a 15 gal batch per week, as I did for several months, meant keeping only 10 gals of methanol at the house, good for about 3 batches. By avoiding water-wash entirely using Graham Laming's process, and composting the glycerol, I found it quite reasonable to fuel my personal vehicle from 50-100% with homemade biodiesel.

[3] I want to emphasize I am talking about typical, densely packed residential neighborhoods. At the closest point the gap between the roofs of my house and my neighbor's is about 15' (I just measured it). And I have only the garage as a work area. There are plenty of residential areas in Phoenix where there is enough room to safely make hundreds of gallons of biodiesel a week in an out-building away from anyone else's property. A lot of people would disagree with that statement, though :-)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Biofuels-related articles of interest

Given various other time demands we're not blogging much these days, but in case anyone is interested we do regularly throw links and snippets of articles into a Google Notebook that is available here as a webpage and here as a RSS feed. The kinds of things that end up in there are AZ-related biofuels news, algae biofuels news, WVO-related articles, agriculture stuff, policy and legislative developments, etc. The links can be fairly random -- the only real criteria is that something about a particular article caught our attention and we wanted to share it with each other. If anyone else out there finds this useful, enjoy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Torrey Kolesar joining DBI

Another piece of exciting news for DBI (in addition to the release of our regulatory white paper) is that Torrey Kolesar will be joining us as an intern this summer. Torrey is a junior in ASU's Barrett Honors College, where he is studying chemical engineering and finance. Torrey was part of a groundbreaking effort in Ghana, Africa to develop a biofuel infrastructure based on Jatropha feedstocks, and is co-author of a biofuels wiki hosted by ASU. We're thrilled to have Torrey on board.

Torrey will be leading a project to assess the current state of biofuels feedstocks in Arizona. The goal of the project is to analyze WVO, agricultural and algae feedstocks, assessing issues such as current market structure, supply/demand, costs, and feasibility. Our plan is to publish the results of Torrey's research as a white paper, and to host a meeting at ASU SkySong in the early fall where Torrey can present and discuss his results with interested parties.

We're also hoping that Torrey will contribute to this blog, and envision that he'll participate in some of the other projects we have underway.

Torrey can be contacted by email at

AZ Biodiesel Regulatory Environment white paper

We're very pleased to announce that "version 1.0" of our DBI white paper Arizona Biodiesel Regulatory Environment is available for download in a number of different formats, linked from our DBI home page at, under the "Key 2008 Projects" header. The HTML version is here.

Deep thanks and kudos to author Sam West, who did an amazing job pulling the paper together.

Thanks as well to AZ Biodiesel, whose generous support of the ASU Technology Ventures Clinic helped make the paper possible.

We expect that the white paper will be a living document that will be revised regularly. The information in the document is not comprehensive or complete, but in the spirit of running code our hope is that it can serve as a starting point for deeper discussions among the AZ biofuels community.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hunter's new ride

My son Hunter graduated high school on Thursday. He wants to do something in business and presumably make a ton of dough. Since business is the agenda, I suggested (insisted) that he take an AP Stats class his senior year. Hunter protested, complained, said it was too hard, threatened to drop... and got a B.

Hunter turns 18 on Tuesday and wants to go to NAU in the fall. Last year I promised him the same deal I gave Nelson when Nels got my old Toyota T100 as a graduation present. At the time I booked out the T100 to get an idea of how much this promise was going to cost.

As we spent the last month or two looking for vehicles, I noticed that all the trucks and SUVs Hunter suggested were about twice the budget I allowed. Hmmm. I kept looking anyway. Last weekend I found a truck online that looked perfect: original owner, less than 100K miles, all maintenance records, etc. It was also within "the budget". So I called and we went to look last Sunday.

Although not perfect by any means -- it was repainted marginally well, the dash is horribly cracked, the stereo is convinced that a (phantom) tape is inserted at all times, the door locks are broken -- it started immediately, ran great, and sounded bitchin'. So I put a deposit down and we picked it up last Tuesday.

What does this have to do with DBI?

Well, everyone who sees it immediately notices that I bought Hunter a BIG truck. Yep. And I'm concerned about the environmental impact of driving, so I run biodiesel. Yep. And this 4x4 pig is thirteen years old, runs gas, and gets (optimistically and according to the EPA) 10 mpg city, 14 highway. Yep.

See, he has to fill it up. He got a truck, not a gas card. And with gas approaching $4.00/gal, and a 35 gallon tank, it will cost nearly $140.00 to fill the damn thing. How much driving is an 18 year old going to do when it takes 14 hours of work to fill his truck? Once! Sure, we need vehicles on the road that get better mileage. But more importantly, wherever feasible, we need to drive less. And a NAU freshman doesn't need to drive much at all. So Hunter got the truck he "needed", the one I promised, and now it's his problem. Maybe he'll even start reading the blog :-)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another month of record fuel prices

It's been kind of a rude awakening the past few weeks, seeing the price of petrol diesel continue its upward spiral. According to this story in the New York Times demand for gasoline actually decreased since the beginning of the year, and miles driven dropped by the largest month-on-month (March) margin (4.3%) since record keeping began in 1942. And yet the cost of gasoline (and more dramatically, diesel) has continued to rise.

According to the Energy Information Administration:
Based on projections of weak economic growth and record high crude oil and product prices, consumption is projected to decline by 190,000 bbl/d in 2008 [...] After accounting for projected increases in ethanol use, U.S. petroleum consumption is projected to fall by 330,000 bbl/d.

So if demand is falling, why are prices rising dramatically?
World oil consumption is projected to grow by 1.2 million bbl/d in 2008. Almost all of the growth in 2008 is expected to come from the non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, led by China, Middle East oil producing countries, and Russia, as well as Brazil and India [...]

more than offsetting any decline in demand in the US.

Bummer for us. Of course, it's also great for us. Fuel prices are starting to more directly affect individual driving decisions, consumer vehicle preferences, and therefore auto manufacturer's vehicle production. Business Week reports:
Ford Motor (F) is cutting its production of its one-time cash cows, pickups and SUVs, to instead increase production of smaller and more fuel-efficient cars.

And the New York Times reports:
With technical and environmental hurdles overcome — and facing tougher mileage standards that call for a 35 m.p.g. average by 2020 — automakers are rushing in with clean-diesel cars.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Right Biofuels

Check out the NY Times op-ed column today (Apr 24) by Roger Cohen. Ethanol-specific but the points he makes are equally valid for biodiesel: choice of feedstock is the key to sustainability, and poorly implemented incentives distort markets and exacerbate other negative effects.

Articles like this are not just nice to see, but necessary for public awareness, if we are to save the term "biofuels" from being misused to the point it must be abandoned.

Measuring Petroleum MPG

There are lots of ways to measure efficiency and progress. My son Nelson just wrote a freshman English paper about DBI for a class at NAU. He's particularly impressed that by running homebrew biodiesel it's now cheaper for me to drive my 3/4 ton Duramax pickup truck on my 75 mile work commute than my 37 mpg Toyota Corolla.

Another angle on this is something I've been thinking about: Petroleum MPG, or PMPG (yes, I made that up! "That just happened!"). Since environmentally it is a heck of a lot better to be running biodiesel from WVO than gasoline from petroleum, for a number of reasons explained elsewhere, I was interested in what my effective MPG was for the truck if I measure based on the amount of petroleum diesel I use.

Since the beginning of the year, when my truck had an oil change (Jan 8), I've driven, as of this morning, 6883 miles. If I counted correctly, that's 107 days, a little over 64 miles a day. Looking at my fuel receipts, and using $3.50/gal as a rough number for that period, I've purchased 86.9 gallons of petroleum diesel. The rest has been either B99 from Western States Petroleum [1], B100 from Dynamite Biofuels Co-op, or my own individually produced biodiesel.

My PMPG is 79.2 miles per gallon.

If I factor in the methanol needed to produce the biodiesel [2] used to increase my PMPG so dramatically, that is another 44.3 gallons of "fossil fuel" products (most methanol is produced from natural gas). That brings my "petroleum" fuel total up to 131.2 gallons for the period.

My PMPG is 52.5 miles per gallon.

Something interesting to think about.

[1] WSP's B99 is not WVO-based, but soy biodiesel from Iowa. I'm giving it a pass here for simplicity. It's still better than petrol diesel!

[2] 20% of the volume of oil for the reaction, but we'll factor in methanol recovery since we are environmentally and economically sensitive :-) , so let's call it 15%.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

AZ policymakers "get" biofuels

One of the points we've been making when we articulate our vision of "local biofuels" is that we have the ingredients here in Arizona to implement local biofuels in a world class way. We have bleeding-edge research happening at ASU. We have visionary entrepreneurs doing some amazing things. We have well-established grassroots organizations and an active individual producer community. And, critically, we have policymakers that "get it." We've had the opportunity to have dialogue with folks like state Representative Tom Boone, Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon, the Governor's environmental policy advisor Lori Faeth, senior reps from ADEQ and many others, and have been consistently struck by how thoughtful, knowledgeable and supportive these key policymakers have been concerning biofuels.

While we haven't had the opportunity to meet with him personally, another Arizona policymaker who is playing a leadership role in connection with biofuels is federal Representative John Shadegg. As described in this article, on April 4th Shadegg proposed legislation to close the shameful "splash and dash" loophole that has enable foreign biodiesel producers to transship biodiesel through a U.S. port, blend it with 1% petrol diesel, collect a $1 per gallon blenders credit (funded by U.S. taxpayers), and then ship the fuel onward to Europe (or elsewhere) for sale. Kudos to Shadegg for leading on this issue.

[The one potential counterexample we've encountered in connection with local policymakers "getting it" (or not) is AZ Biodiesel's current struggle with the City of Chandler. As described here, AZ Biodiesel is caught up in dispute over zoning and planning issues which threatens to shut them down. Our hope is that cooler heads will prevail and city leaders will figure out a path to resolution that enables this critical local resource to stay online while issues are being addressed.]

DBI Inc., con't

Eric is baiting me, but just for the record: my sole qualification to be the nominal "president" of our newly formed AZ non-profit corporation over Eric's "vice president" role is that my last name comes ahead of his alphabetically and our esteemed counsel dropped my name in the first slot. Eric's already agreed to swap in 2009, but I'll enjoy my lame duck session while it lasts. :-)

For anyone who wants more info about how we envision DBI evolving, we have a draft 1-pager posted here (.pdf) that might be useful. As noted in the 1-pager, Eric and I see our roles currently as roughly "technical director" (Eric) and "policy director" (Brad), with responsibilities split equally and considerable overlap in what we cover. Also, Sam has been working with us in a role that I think of as "policy analyst." We're all volunteer at the moment, but we're working with some grant writers (whose services have been generously lent to us by ASU Law's Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology), and if we can raise some money we'll hire in an executive director-type position.

As described better in the 1-pager, we envision our activities falling roughly into three categories: policy, operational and education. On the policy side, our goal is to create a virtual "think tank" focused on biofuels policy issues, working closely with various partners at ASU. Operationally, we're excited about some ideas under discussion about a program to incentivize restaurants throughout the Sonoran Desert region to keep their WVO here for use as feedstock for biodiesel, and about the possibility of creating a pilot biofuel plant that could help local commercial producers bridge new technologies from academic research labs into actual production. On the education front, we plan to continue extensive stakeholder outreach, more blogging and info-gathering, and will plan a second local biofuels summit.

Ultimately we hope to help play a "glue" role connecting the many various stakeholders -- entrepreneurs, policymakers, regulators, researchers, the grassroots community -- who will need to work together in order for "local biofuels" to thrive in Arizona. Our intent is to complement the efforts of other stakeholders, and to try to identify and solve problems that aren't being addressed by others.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DBI Inc.

Well, DBI is no longer just a project: we signed the papers today to incorporate as a non-profit in the state of Arizona. Many thanks to Rick Berry, P.C. for his assistance. I'm sure our new president will have more to say about this, and other new developments, shortly :-)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

WVO SWAGs for public beta test

We did some estimates recently I'd like to share. Feedback and corrections requested. And I promise to take a break from the software metaphors after this...

A search at Environmental Services for Maricopa County [1] returned 21155 entries for licensed "Food Establishments":

Using 50 gal / month / licensee [2] for round numbers equals 12,693,000 gals WVO (waste vegetable oil) per year in the greater Phoenix area.

Using 22 lbs of C02 per gallon of diesel fuel [3], and reducing that by 78% when running B100 [4] equals a net CO2 reduction of:

217,811,880 lbs (108,906 tons) of CO2 removed from the Valley [5]

by converting that WVO to biodiesel and displacing the petroleum diesel that would otherwise be used here.

[5] actually, the 78% reduction is described as "life-cycle CO2 emissions" compared to petroleum diesel, so the local CO2 reduction is probably less.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

That won't fly

I read with interest a post on Lyle Estill's blog recently. It reiterated a point that I see made frequently: we all need to just quit driving. Well... I don't want to cause a commotion, but that's not going to work.

What made the post more interesting to me was that he was writing from Mexico, on vacation with his family, where he flew. The incongruity is exquisite, yes? As I stated in my comment on his blog, the modern world is, at least partly, defined by the possibility of taking your family from NC to Mexico for a vacation, whether by land, sea, or air. The issue is how to keep that possibility alive and not destroy our homes, vacation destinations, and everything else in the process. Aren’t biofuels (especially "local biofuels") part of the solution?

Look, I have a terrible carbon footprint. I'm a corporate pilot. I live 40 miles from my home airport. There is not a lot I can do about either one.[1] I am interested in solutions that will work for existing people, in existing circumstances. My brother-in-law is convinced that solar-powered electric cars are the answer. The problem is that I can't buy one. And certainly not one that will take me and my two sons across the western US this summer with a couple hundred pounds of gear and three 40 lb. downhill mountain bikes.

I actually have pretty simple requirements. I want to run local B100 in my 3/4 ton 4x4 20 mpg Duramax turbodiesel until I can buy a diesel-electric hybrid 3/4 ton 4x4 truck that gets 40 mpg. I'll drive that until I can buy a zero-emission 3/4 ton 4x4 truck that gets 80 mpg equivalent. Easy.

[1] I can change careers. I can move. Neither option is on the table at this time.

What do you mean by non-profit?

It's been really interesting in our conversations with local biofuels stakeholders, and interested third parties, that we often get questions along the lines of "Why a non-profit?" "What's the advantage?" "Aren't you leaving money on the table?" "Can't you do good and do well?"

Legitimate questions all. And we've done a lot of thinking about them, as explained in a previous post. But there are, I think, some underlying assumptions in the questions that may not be readily apparent.

It's kind of a hackneyed device, but let's start with a definition (Oxford American): "profit n. 1. an advantage or benefit obtained from doing something. [...]" Let me make it clear: Brad and I fully intend to profit from the work we are doing. We want cleaner air to breathe, local economic development, more independence from foreign sources of petroleum, ... See?

We finished our ASU LPEC class last night[1], and Brad presented our work-in-progress business plan for DBI. There was a great panel of business and community leaders present to listen and give feedback. And sure enough, we got it again... "What do you want to be a non-profit for?" But the follow-up was more interesting. The panelist shared his perception that he automatically shuts down his listening when he hears "non-profit business". And that is valuable feedback for us. It will help us frame our presentation to address that built-in bias.

There is really only one reason why we've chosen this business model. We believe by using it we'll maximize our profit. So please don't ascribe any pretense of noble purpose or higher calling to our work. This is pure enlightened self-interest.

[1] By the way, the class was really helpful. Recommended. Please send Brad or me email if you'd like more information on our class experience.

Friday, March 21, 2008

DBI v 1.0

After the encouraging results of the workshop we held at ASU SkySong on March 7, we have been intensely focusing on next steps for DBI. Brad and I have been taking a class at SkySong on Sustainable Launch Prep Entrepreneurship to try and hammer out our ideas about where to go next.

We think we have a good handle on immediate next steps: Sam is nearly finished with his legal and regulatory analysis at the Federal, State, and Local levels. That paper will be available here once it's complete. We have other ideas for projects that we hope to connect to the right students.

Also, based on the positive feedback we've received from the biofuels stakeholders we've connected with, we are planning to move forward with the formation of an Arizona-based non-profit, and hope to receive a charity status designation from the IRS to incentivize donors.

This is a big mental and practical step for us: we are making a commitment to move from being an informal "project" to becoming a legitimate entity, with a specific purpose. Our goal will be to provide the "glue" to connect the various commercial, political, academic and individual biofuels stakeholders. At the risk of beating a metaphor to death, DBI is leaving "beta" and is entering version 1.0.

In the short term, the low-hanging WVO fruit is available now. We just need to decide, as a community, that it is a "good thing", and then do it! There are commercial (and coop!) producers in this space and they need support. In the "project phase" we have already been able to help make connections in local government with key departments and decision makers. We need to keep this dialog going.

We were very excited to learn about plans for a Prescott-based biodiesel coop. We connected with Paul Katan and Michael Freeman (Who's who posts to come!) at the workshop and there is a great opportunity to work together on goals that are mutually beneficial.

We are discussing the development of a "best practices" document that can be shared not only with individual producers and coops, but also with the relevant city, county and state agencies. "Flying under the radar" is an approach that may work on a (very) limited scale, but to have a substantial, positive impact we need to get "rough consensus" and then get to work!

In the long term, we believe there is tremendous opportunity in this space to connect world-class research institutions, industry, political support and grass roots enthusiasm. If successful, we hope to assist in the development of a regional biofuels infrastructure that is self-sustaining, environmentally responsible, and energy independent.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Desert Biofuels Workshop

DBI held the "Desert Biofuels Workshop" on March 7th, 2008, at ASU Skysong. A summary of the Workshop and links to the slides can be found here. We're deeply grateful to all of the presenters and particpants, as the conference proved fascinating both for the substantive ground covered and for the diversity of the stakeholder groups represented. We've received some wonderful and very kind feedback from participants, including the following comments:

"...a watershed for AZ biodiesel..."

" ...never been at a conference with such broad representation, from corporate, to government, education, NGOs and home brewers..."

"...showed just how important this topic is..."

"...tremendously valuable..."

We hope to continue the dialogue begun at the Workshop, and invite everyone to visit the our Google Group site we've established for follow up activity.

Friday, February 29, 2008

CTO Forum on Green Technology

I had a chance to attend the CTO Forum on Green Technology yesterday, a 150-attendee event hosted by Intel Corp. There was an impressive array of participants: the CEO and CTO of Intel, senior VPs from Dell, Sun, Cisco, Cadence, Fujitsu; a member of the California Energy Commission, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley Labs and other institutions, one of Al Gore's Nobel Prize co-laureates. Some quick, non-comprehensive, biofuels-related observations:

o Stephen Schneider from IPCC, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007, is a former biofuels enthusiast now turned skeptic (judging only from comments he made as an aside during his very compelling global warming talk). He seemed to not be groking the "not all biofuels are created equal" point that Eric makes in this post. I worry that this is a sign that local biofuels proponents have a significant uphill battle to distinguish our vision from the "big agriculture" model.

o Bernardo Lopez, head of BMW Research, gave an interesting presentation in a "clean transportation" breakout session that I participated in. The good news was that BMW had some incredibly cool diesel hybrids on the way -- I got very excited about the idea of a hybrid running biodiesel. The bad news was that BMW is much more focused on what, in my view, is a pie-in-the-sky hydrogen vision for alternative fuel, and seems skeptical about and at best only mildly supportive of biofuels. I had a good discussion with Bernardo and his colleagues, though, and I hope to have more dialogue with them about this.

o Generally the folks at the conference with whom I had a chance to discuss the DBI project were quite supportive and interested. I noted that the overall level of knowledge about biofuels was fairly low, however, even among this 'green tech'-savvy crowd.

o One of the giveaways at the forum was a book by Pernick and Wilder called The Clean Tech Revolution. It has a good chapter on biofuels. The chapter notes several "breakthrough opportunities," one of which is "go local":

A number of biofuel pioneers are taking a contrarian approach to the way we process fossil fuels. Rather than ship raw feedstock thousands of miles to refineries, and then ship processed fuels hundreds or thousands of miles to end users, why not make the entire process more local? In this new energy model, you grow your crops regionally and process or refine the oil or feedstock near the point of use. ... [W]e do believe there are opportunities for farmers, local agriculture groups, universities, lawyers, policy makers and of course entrepreneurs to play a role in helping to establish regional production of biofuels. It's happening in places as diverse as Seattle and Pune, India--and will become a growing movement in years to come.

Radio interview with Dan Rees, AZ Biodiesel

Dan Rees, President of AZ Biodiesel was interviewed by KFNN 1610 AM on Tuesday; listen here. We're big AZ Biodiesel fans, as they embody the local biofuels model that we champion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Biofuels are the problem... NOT!

Wow! It's getting hot and heavy out there, and I'm not talking about global warming:

It seems like a lot of the criticism above is based on the assumption that food crops on newly cleared virgin lands are required to create biofuel. But what we are trying to do in the Valley, at least initially, is turn waste into fuel. As Brad pointed out in his post about DBI versions: "First, a reminder of what we mean when we talk about local biofuels: our focus is on locally-produced biofuels, that are derived from local, non-food feedstocks, and used locally. The current corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel models -- where fuel is derived from food crops grown in distant locations, processed elsewhere, and shipped here -- is not consistent with our vision".

The environmental analyses that contend biofuels are actually more harmful to the environment than petroleum products start with the assumption that corn, soy and sugarcane are the feedstocks for biofuels. True, but incomplete. And by leaving out the compelling benefits of non-food feedstocks leaves the impression that biofuels themselves are bad.

"Studies Call Biofuels a Greenhouse Threat". Wow! There's a headline that gets some attention! But is that an accurate statement? The article reports the "destruction of natural ecosystems" to "support biofuel development". Okay, but where does WVO-based biodiesel fit into that picture? What about jatropha (a perennial non-food shrub) planted in the desert? What about algae? What about cellulosic ethanol? What about land fill waste? The problem is not so much with the facts, but with the way they are being reported. By painting all biofuels with the same broad brushstrokes, we stand to lose a lot of help from local folks who otherwise would have been enthusiastic supporters.

When we started this project one of our operating principles was that we would put stuff out as we went along, knowing that much of it would seem naive to more experienced participants. I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities to post updates and corrections as we go along. But it's amazing to see that we've learned enough in just a few months to find major flaws in internationally reported news stories.

The most balanced headline of the bunch: Some Biofuels Are Worse Environmentally Than Fossil Fuels. Agreed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pending biofuels legislation

This topic deserves (and will get) some deeper analysis, but here's a quick summary of the biofuels-related bills that are pending in the Arizona legislature this session:

1. HB 2766, the "Omnibus Energy Act of 2008," which (among many other things) calls for a B2 biodiesel mandate after regional production in AZ, NV, CA, UT, and NM reaches 5 million gallons per year of biodiesel, then steps the mandate up to B5 after 15 million gallons regional production is reached.

2. HB 2620, the "Biofuels Conversion Program," which "establishes the Arizona Biofuels Conversion Program in the Department of Commerce (DOC) to encourage the use of biofuel."

3. HB 2621, "Biofuel Standards," which "establishes standards for biofuel relating to labeling, product transfer documents, registration and reporting requirements."

4. HB 2363, called "Weights and Measures; Biofuels Rules," which we have discussed before, and which may have been subsumed by HB 2621 (they cover similar ground).

Big hat tip to Jim Lombard of Roadrunner Biodiesel and the AZ Biodiesel Board for his work in tracking these bills.

Who's who post #11: Sam West

We are thrilled to announce that Sam West, currently in his final year of law school at ASU, will be joining the Desert Biofuels Initiative team during at least the Spring semester, working on a project to assess the federal, state and local legal and regulatory environment for biodiesel producers and distributors. Sam brings a wealth of experience and education to the table with him: he has a civil and environmental engineering degree, an MBA, energy-related experience as a Naval officer, restaurant industry engineering experience, and his legal background. Sam can be contacted at

Sam comes to us via ASU's Technology Ventures Clinic. Our deep thanks to Eric Menkhus and team for their support.

Who's who post #10: Francine Hardaway

Francine Hardaway lives in Phoenix and is a board member of the American Biofuels Council, which describes its mission as "to conduct research, development, education and promote the accelerated use of sustainable biofuels and, to advise decision makers on how these goals are best accomplished." Francine is a principal at Stealthmode Partners, and is well-known and highly-regarded in the Phoenix-area business, technical and political communities. She has been a good friend to the Desert Biofuels Initiative. Francine writes an entertaining blog, online here.

Who's who post #9: Arizona Alternative Fuels Alliance

The Arizona Alternative Fuels Alliance is a 501(c)(3) with a mission of educating the public on alternative fuels, accepting and distributing charity to like-minded organizations, and to support legislation that is favorable to alternative fuels. To date, their efforts have largely focused on creating the infrastructure that will support their mission (corporate entity formation, etc.) and on compiling a useful set of online resources, including various alternative fuel locator tools. Key principals with AzAFA are James Towner (left) and Drew Bierlien (right) [I'm beginning to make an effort to collect photos of our "who's who" entrants.]

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Getting right-sized

Lyle Estill just published the text of his speech to the NBB folks at the 2008 Biodiesel Conference and Expo. As usual, I got a lot out of reading his stuff. I decided to submit a comment on his blog, but then got a little carried away. Before I pressed the "Submit" button I figured I had really written a blog entry for DBI. So here it is. It will make more sense if you read Lyle's blog entry first.

Disclaimer: I haven't been doing this for years and years, and don't claim any special insight. These are just some opinions based on my observations.

"Appropriate scale" is right on. In other words we need to stay "right-sized" to be sustainable. But that "right-sizing" also means some folks will have to make significant changes to be truly sustainable. Perhaps that is obvious, but the 4X4 off-road magazines are publishing full page ads for the "Fuel Meister II" biodiesel processor, which supposedly makes fuel for "only $0.70 a gallon".

Where does the "Fuel Meister II" fit into the "micro nodal form of fuel production"? Does the "Fuel Meister II" come with a big, bold-faced disclaimer about the inherent safety issues of using a plastic processing vessel? Does the "Fuel Meister II" include instructions for disposing of hundreds of gallons of wash water and scores of gallons glycerol? Is the "Fuel Meister II" a model of sustainability?

Sustainable would mean the manufacturer requires mandatory, not simply 'available', hands-on training to purchase one of those processors. Sustainable might require certification of the processor! Just as you don't just buy a helicopter and start flying, turning a novice loose with a PVC pipe, poly tank machine capable of hundreds of gallons of biodiesel production, with no hands-on training, is crazy. It's unsustainable.

Let's take that flying analogy a little further. There's a fundamental difference between me building an experimental helicopter and trying to fly it solo, and taking others up in the air with me. Or building a production helicopter and offering it for sale. Especially if I advertise how cheap, safe and easy it is to operate. I'm not advocating that everyone who wants to try to make biodiesel needs to be certified by some authority. But when companies are holding out to the general public products which require handling flammable and caustic substances, that will generate prodigious amounts of "sidestream" material that will need proper disposal, perhaps some oversight is in order.

I've made small batches of biodiesel using a tiny all metal appleseed processor, fuel that I've been confident enough with that I've actually put it in my common-rail diesel truck. That's me flying solo in my experimental helicopter.

For me to be fuel self-sufficient would require quite a bit more production. My current needs (not my wife and kids, just me) are about (1) 26 gal tank of fuel a week. If my math is close, that would mean processing a hundred gallons of oil, a half-barrel of methanol, and over 5 lbs. of KOH a month. My suburban neighbors are pretty cool folks, and even if they were okay with that (which I doubt) I bet the fire marshal and/or my insurance agent wouldn't be okay with it. If I add fuel for my wife and kids, all of a sudden I'm up to 150 or 200 gallons of oil, a barrel of methanol, etc.

Right-sized for me means staying with a 5 gal gas can of methanol for processing and running a small mix of "homebrew" and petrol diesel, when I can't get to the coop or downtown. As Brad and I learn more, we may find out even that's not okay in the garage. That would suck, and we'd try to change the rules so it would be okay. I like experimenting in my helicopter. But I don't take people for rides in my helicopter. And I've learned enough about biodiesel that I no longer think I'm going to fuel my whole family out of my suburban garage either.

The guys I know doing this stuff for free and for fun, because they think it's important to their families and the community, are working really hard to become right-sized. Small enough to be in control of their own little part of the world, but big enough to credibly engage the community over issues like zoning, permitting, safety and sidestreams. The folly of the industrial producers is pretending that bigger must be better; the folly of the grassroots is that we aren't big enough to hurt anybody, or the bigger lie, that we're only hurting ourselves if we screw up.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Who's who post #8: Arizona Biodiesel

While individual producers and co-ops play a role in the "local biofuels" vision, to have a significant environmental and economic impact local commercial producers are absolutely critical. Dan Rees and the team at Arizona Biodiesel (formerly known as Arizona Performance Biodiesel) are leading the charge on the commercial side. They have a sophisticated operation in Chandler that is on the cusp of producing saleable fuel, and have a goal of shipping a million gallons of WVO-derived biodiesel this year. As pioneers in this space they've worked through difficult regulatory, technical and business challenges, and we're hopeful that they can get over some final hurdles and get fuel shipping this month (it remains unclear whether they or Amereco will be the first commercial biodiesel producer in the Valley to ship fuel).

Also, AZ Biodiesel is supporting an initiative called Arizona Green Dining that, among other things, showcases restaurants that are dedicating their WVO for conversion to biodiesel and encourages consumers to support those restaurants. Please check out the Arizona Green Dining website, let others know about it, and support restuarants that are supporting the local biofuels vision in the Valley.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Got back home yesterday from a great coffee meeting with Brad, Dave, Gene, Jay, Mike, and Stuart Shellenberger of Fusion Biodiesel ("Who's who" post coming soon!) at Unlimited Coffee in north Phoenix to find this in my local-b100-biz folder:

EPA Enforcement Action to Protect Streams in Missouri

Release date: 01/28/2008

Contact Information: Kris Lancaster, (913) 551-7557,

Environmental News


(Kansas City, Kan., Jan. 28, 2008) - EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the Missouri Department of Conservation conducted a joint investigation of an illegal discharge of pollutants in Hermondale, Mo., leading to criminal charges against James Raulerson and James Raulerson Farms for violating the Clean Water Act.

The investigation began October 2007, when an anonymous call was received by the Missouri Department of Conservation stating that a tanker truck was observed backed up and discharging its contents into Belle Fountain Ditch in Hermondale, Mo. Upon arrival, state and federal emergency responders found that an undetermined amount of decomposing glycerin that was generated from Natural Biodiesel Plant LLC was released into the Belle Fountain Ditch. Approximately 100,000 fish and other aquatic life were killed.

A federal indictment, filed January 9, 2008, alleges that James Raulerson and James Raulerson Farms knowingly discharged or caused to be discharged pollutants, namely glycerin, methanol and oil into the Belle Fountain Ditch, a water of the United States.

EPA Region 7 Administrator John B. Askew said, "EPA supports the growth of the renewable fuels industry, however, workers need to be environmentally responsible. EPA will take whatever steps are needed to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act."

EPA hopes these actions will result in greater compliance and improved water quality by sending a clear message about the importance of protecting our nation's waters. The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.!OpenDocument

It should be evident from all our postings that this type of behavior is clearly NOT part of our vision for biofuels in the Valley, or anywhere else. It does, however, bring up rather dramatically that environmental compliance issues could be a potential deal-breaker for any producer -- homebrewer, coop, or commercial -- that is unwilling or unable to deal with ALL the products that come from a biofuels plant.

Having a way to responsibly deal with safety and sidestream issues is critically important if biofuels are to make any significant impact here in the Valley. We hope that the connections we're making, with backyarders, coops, commercial producers, educational institutions, legislators, will enable us to act as a trusted third-party to help facilitate common-sense solutions to the very real issues that surround biofuel production and distribution.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

First and only e85 pump in the Valley

We stopped by Western States Petroleum today (Eric filled his truck with B99) and got a look at the Valley's first and only e85 pump. WSP also is the site of the Valley's only B99 (99% biodiesel) pump. WSP's fuel doesn't fit the "local biofuel" model that we champion (it's soy and corn based, and shipped in from the midwest), but they nonetheless deserve major kudos for being a biofuels pioneer in the Valley and for meeting the critically important "running code" test.

Here's a photo of the e85 pump:

One of the WSP workers said that Super Bowl-related vehicles had been funneling through regularly filling up with e85. Kudos on this front to WSP, Fox Sports and the Tucson Clean Cities Coalition. From a TCCC press release:

...Tucson Clean Cities Coalition at Pima Association of Governments is assisting FOX Sports with securing hybrid and flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) for use both internally by FOX, as well as by designated VIPs during Super Bowl XLII festivities in the Phoenix area. FFVs can run on either gasoline or alternative fuel blends, including up to 85 percent ethanol (E85). FOX Sports executives will drive hybrid SUVs and flex-fuel vehicles throughout Super Bowl week...

Local biofuels in the Valley: at beta version 0.6

Readers of this blog will know that we have an affinity for software industry metaphors (see, e.g., our "rough consensus and running code" and "open source biodiesel" posts). Here's another one I wanted to try.

First, a reminder of what we mean when we talk about local biofuels: our focus is on locally-produced biofuels, that are derived from local, non-food feedstocks, and used locally. The current corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel models -- where fuel is derived from food crops grown in distant locations, processed elsewhere, and shipped here -- is not consistent with our vison, although we recognize that generally this model is still much better than petroleum fuels.

Now for the software metaphor: my sense is that local biofuels in the Valley are in early beta, maybe at version 0.6. Early adopter homebrewers and co-ops are producing and using biodiesel, but are having to contend with significant bugs in the regulatory system. Commercial entities like AZ Biodiesel and Amereco are on the cusp of producing saleable fuel, but still have major production and distribution kinks to work out.

I think that version 1.0 of local biofuels in the valley is not far off, however: although it will take significant heavy lifting to get there, we can imagine a world where homebrewers and co-ops making WVO*-derived biodiesel have a supporting infratructure that enables compliance with tax and environmental regulations, and where local commercial producers are making high quality WVO-based biodiesel available to consumers on a routine basis.

If version 1.0 is in sight, then planning for version 2.0 should be underway. My sense is that version 2.0 will also be biodiesel-focused, but will replace or complement WVO as the key feedstock. Crops like jatropha seem promising as a alternative feedstock, one that need not displace food crops and that can be grown in a desert climate. We'd like to see the local agribusiness community begin exploring options for local biofuels version 2.0.

As for version 3.0, it's likely premature to guess at what this might look like. Algae feedstocks for biodiesel and/or ethanol show promise, as do technologies like cellulosic ethanol. We'd certainly love to see an embodiment of ethanol that was consistent with the local biofuels vision, given the inherent limitations of biodiesel (i.e., a limited number of diesel engines).

* WVO = waste vegetable oil, a.k.a. grease

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Who's who post #7: Colleen Crowninshield

In this series of who's who posts we plan to focus on people active in biofuels in the Valley region, but one Tucson-based person is such a standout statewide leader that we'll depart from the Valley-specific focus for a moment. As a quick Google search can demonstrate, Colleen Crowninshield of the Pima Association of Governments has been tireless in promoting biofuels throughout the state. In 2005 the DoE gave her an award and described her as "a persistent advocate of alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles." The Arizona Republic described her as the "state's clearinghouse on all things ethanol and most things biodiesel." She serves as a member of the Arizona Biodiesel Board and has been deeply involved in the development of biodiesel and ethanol fueling stations in Tucson. She chairs the very active and successful Tucson Clean Cities Coalition.

Who's who post #6: William Sheaffer

Bill Sheaffer may have the deepest experience of anyone in the Valley in connection with commercial biodiesel and associated policy issues. Bill was a VP with Southern States Power Co., which sold biodiesel to customers that included the Deer Valley School District before ceasing operations in 2004. He was involved with a company called Buckeye Biofuels, and now is Executive VP at Amereco, a West Valley-based biodiesel producer that now plans to begin shipping fuel at the end of January. Bill also has served as the executive director of the Valley of the Sun Clean Cities Coalition. The VSCCC website apparently hasn't been updated in several years but Bill reports that the VSCCC is "very much alive" and has a major event planned in late February (we'll post details here when we have them).

Who's who post #5: Michael Sarin

Michael Sarin is a successful entrepreneur and engineer (ASU alum) who has been as been a renewable fuels consultant since 2004. Most recently Michael was involved with the 100% biodiesel race boat Earthrace, working as a member of the ground support crew, and as a sponsor during their 2007 world tour. He is currently consulting for two renewable energy companies in the Phoenix area, XL Renewables and Diversified Energy. He and his wife both drive diesel vehicles, one powered by biodiesel, and the other recently converted to run on WVO. Michael is active in local efforts to promote biodiesel.

[Our ongoing, still very incomplete series of "who's who" in Valley biofuels posts is linked here]

$100/bbl is GREAT!

My brother-in-law Joseph is an unabashed optimist. Start describing the latest financial meltdown, environmental catastrophe or political scandal and he'll retort with something wonderful he's found on the Internet that day. He'll say something like "laser light hard disk technology will eventually enable us to store 10 terabits per square inch. Isn't that amazing?!" It won't necessarily be on-point, but it will make his point: a lot of life is where you look, how you look at it, and that there has never before been such a wondrous time to be alive. And, once again, technology from human ingenuity will save the day.

Although I've always been a bit of a pessimist, I'm starting to come around to Joe's way of thinking, especially when it comes to the Peak Oil doomsday scenarios that abound on the 'net. It's interesting to me that many of the doomsayers are also marketing products and services to address the problem. features a 'preparedness store' for instance. It's all strangely reminiscent of the Y2K phenomenon, one that swept me into a funk for a year and half prior to that non-event. (As a matter of fact, I pulled a couple tablespoons of sugar this morning out of the 20lb HDPE container I bought... 8 1/2 years ago.)

One of the most balanced and readable commentators on energy issues that I've discovered thus far is Vaclav Smil. As I learn more about biofuels generally and biodiesel in particular, it has become apparent, at least to me, that there is not a singular solution to the problem of petroleum substitutes. We are going to have to have a diversity of resources lined up to make the transition from so-called 'fossil fuels' to whatever's next. And the fact that I think Smil could be characterized as 'down' on biofuels provides me with a reality-check on this project.

But, be that as it may, again and again over the past 30-plus years since the OPEC embargo of the US, any momentum for alternatives to petroleum has been hampered by the return of cheap oil. So in that sense the best thing for biofuels generally, and local B100 in particular, is a sustained run of 'outrageously' expensive oil. The fact that oil remains nearer $100/bbl than $20/bbl keeps it on everyone's radar, and makes it easier to engage allies (such as local legislators and educational institutions) who may otherwise be too deeply immersed in other pressing issues to pay much attention. Smil says "Steeply rising oil prices would not lead to unchecked bidding for the remaining oil but would accelerate a shift to other energy sources." [1] I'm sure Joe would agree with that.

[1] Vaclav Smil, Peak Oil: A Catastrophist Cult and Complex Realities

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Defining our (current) mission

[ Note: The previous posts in this narrative can be found by searching 'DBI history' ]

We concluded that DBI could be most effective by identifying local stakeholders currently working on biodiesel projects in the Valley (see sidebar), and discovering what issues still needed to be addressed to help them become successful. Also, by contacting the stakeholders in this open and informal way, we hoped to improve our understanding of the issues surrounding biofuels generally.

For example, we discovered early on that a problem with small-scale production of biodiesel is the question of fuel quality. The equipment necessary to do a full set of tests to a sample of fuel is prohibitively expensive for an individual homebrewer, and perhaps even a small coop. Sending batch samples to a commercial testing facility is possible, but also very expensive, and therefore not cost effective for the relatively small batches being produced.

We thought: If there was a way to engage a logical partner with resources and interest, for instance a local community college or university, then conceivably you would have a win-win scenario. The small producer gets accurate and comprehensive quality testing (perhaps for a nominal fee) and the college or university gets real-world material to examine and test. Maybe a angel-funded coop could purchase the testing equipment and turn the 'problem' into a service for homebrewers and other small producers.

Another idea: WVO-based biodiesel appears to be the 'low hanging fruit' in the biofuels world. There is, however, an existing infrastructure to collect and process the large quantities of fryer oil from fast-food chains. This oil is used for pet food, cosmetics, and other products. This so-called 'yellow grease' is a commodity that is traded like any other. But how much of the stuff is there in the Valley? Seems like a good thing to know, especially for a nascent local biodiesel community. Perhaps we could engage some grad students in gathering some of the market data we needed to analyze the potential WVO-based biodiesel production.

Or more directly applicable to homebrewing: one of the first things Brad and I talked about was the need to 'get out of the garage'. Processing small batches of biodiesel is a pretty innocuous affair. Methanol and KOH are not trivial substances, but neither are DRANO and the dozens of other common household chemicals most everyone has in their homes and garages.

The more pressing point was the quantity of chemicals (and processing sidestreams) for producing the amount of biodiesel necessary to become fuel self-sufficient. Identifying possible locations (properly zoned and permitted) for biodiesel processing and chemical storage, handling sidestreams of wash water and glycerol properly: these were issues that we felt both should and could be addressed while preserving the DIY ethic and enthusiasm of the homebrewer community.

A danger that we have talked about is one of exposure: perhaps by going public in this way we would draw attention to activities that had been 'flying under the radar'. But, at least from our perspective, there were a couple compelling reasons to press forward. 1) The 'right' thing to do is be a good neighbor. That includes complying with applicable rules, and if there is room for improvement to the rules, to petition for change. 2) By complying with the rules, we gain a legitimacy in the community to affect change at a larger, more substantial level. One of our primary goals with this project is promote a local biofuels infrastructure that includes commercial, coop and homebrewers. The only way to be included at the table is to show up.

Friday, January 18, 2008

AZ HB2363, ethanol and biodiesel

I assume that AZ HB 2363, introduced yesterday, is being driven by ethanol producers and retailers. It appears to strike a bargain that many industries make: provide broad rule-making authority to a regulatory agency (knowing that industry can often influence that agency to create friendly regulations), and get some favorable legal rules (e.g., liability limitations) in exchange for compliance with the regulations. Sometimes these sorts of arrangements can be shady, but this may be a sensible arrangement in this particular case: the industry may be better off with agency-level rather than legislative-level rulemaking (the agency will presumably be better informed and more flexible), and the liability limitation that is being granted seems reasonable.

The bill does create a risk for biodiesel producers and retailers: the regulatory agency (the Dept. of Weights and Measures) is being empowered to create rules for "biofuels" -- not just ethanol -- so biodiesel folks will have to live with these rules too. The homebrew, co-op and small-scale producer community may have to put some energy into ensuring that the rules don't advantage a "big agribusiness" model of biofuels over the local biofuel vision (locally-produced, locally used, non-food-crop-based biofuels).

The bill may also be, so far, a missed opportunity for biodiesel. The bill solves a problem for E85 retailers: it ensures they won't be liable if a consumer misfuels their non-flex-fuel car. Perhaps biodiesel producers and retailers could have a similar "ask" -- e.g., ask for a similar risk allocation rule around a situation where a consumer claims that their warranty was voided because of the consumer's choice to use biodiesel. I'm not sure what the right "ask" is, but it strikes me that there is a window of opportunity for the biodiesel community to get some benefit from the legislative bargain it is getting pulled in to.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Some thoughts on the current legal regime

I've been thinking more about ARS Section 41-2083. At first blush it strikes me that (a) it is potentially unfriendly to homebrewers and co-ops, and (b) even as applied to commercial producers it has some potentially troubling components. Has anyone out there done the analysis around:
  • Does the limitation in subsection A to "retail seller or fleet owner" flow through the rest if the statute? Or do the sections stand alone; i.e., could subsections K, L, M and N apply (theoretically) to homebrewers and co-ops?
  • Are the testing and labeling requirements sensible? Does this strike the right balance between maximizing consumer protection and minimizing the regulatory burden on biofuels innovators?
  • Do the reporting requirements make sense? From an academic and public policy perspective I think the opportunity to get data about the volume of biofuel produced by each commercial player (and co-op and homebrewer? -- see first point above) would be fascinating. But I wonder if from a competitive perspective the commercial players want this sort of data to be public (I'm assuming the data will be an accessible public record once collected).
To the extent that 41-2083 (K)-(N) was interpreted to apply to homebrewers or co-ops, certainly this would dramatically undermine our "local biofuels" vision. I'll be curious to learn if the local small scale commercial producers think this law helps them (e.g., by increasing consumer confidence in biodiesel) or hurts them (e.g., by imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens).

Here are the relevant sections (other than K, which is in the post below):
A. . . . [A] retail seller or fleet owner shall not store, sell or expose or offer for sale any motor fuel . . . if the product fails to meet the standards specified in this section and in the rules adopted by the director. [ . . . ]

L. A person who blends biodiesel that is intended as a final product for the fueling of motor vehicles shall report to the director by the fifteenth day of each month the quantity and quality of biodiesel shipped to or produced in this state during the preceding month. A person who supplies biodiesel subject to this subsection shall report the following by batch:
1. The percentage of biodiesel in a final blend.
2. The volume of the finished product.
3. For neat biodiesel, the results of analysis for those parameters established by ASTM D6751.
4. For biodiesel blended with any diesel fuel, the results of the analysis of the following motor fuel parameters as established by ASTM D975: (a) Sulfur content. (b) Aromatic hydrocarbon content. (c) Cetane number. (d) Specific gravity. (e) American petroleum institute gravity. (f) The temperatures at which ten per cent, fifty per cent and ninety per cent of the diesel fuel boiled off during distillation.

M. The report required by subsection L of this section shall be on a form prescribed by the director and shall contain a certification of truthfulness and accuracy of the data submitted and a statement of the supplier's consent permitting the department or its authorized agent to collect samples and access records as provided in rules adopted by the department. A corporate officer who is responsible for operations at the facility that produces or ships the final product shall sign the report.

N. A person shall label dispensers at which biodiesel is dispensed in such a manner as to notify other persons of the volume percentage of biodiesel in the finished product and that conforms with 40 Code of Federal Regulations sections 80.570, 80.571, 80.572, 80.573 and 80.574 to inform the customer of the sulfur content of the diesel fuel being dispensed.

State legislative developments

Evidently a new biofuels-related bill was introduced today (HB 2363), sponsored by Representatives Crandall, Reagan, Adams, Driggs and Konopnick. It appears that the focus is on reducing liability risk for E85 ethanol retailers, but it sweeps quite broadly. The bill would amend ARS Section 41-2083 with the following provisions:


Note that ARS Section 41-2083 already includes some requirements applicable to biodiesel producers and distributors:

K. A person shall not sell or offer or expose for sale biodiesel that is not tested or does not meet the specifications established by ASTM D6751 or any blend of biodiesel and diesel fuel that is not tested or does not meet the specifications established by ASTM D975 and that contains sulfur in excess of five hundred parts per million for use in area A as defined in section 49-541.

Plus the statute includes some detailed reporting requirements for biodiesel distributors... presumably these reports would be avilable via a public records act request.

[1/17: post edited to remove the reporting section of the statute; made the post too long and boring!]