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!]

Arizona Biodiesel Board's policy recommendations

The Tuscon-based Arizona Biodiesel Board (ABB) appears to have done some careful thinking on the legislative policy front. They describe their list of top policy priorities for the AZ state legislature here; very roughly summarized, they are:
  • Eliminate road tax remittance requirements for WVO-based biodiesel homebrewers
  • Allocate state funding for alternative feedstock research
  • Create an investment tax credit for feedstock cultivation on tribal lands
  • Mandate that all diesel fuel sold in Arizona contain at least 5% biodiesel
  • Include info on alternative fuels with MVD registration renewals
  • Tax incentives for the creation of biodiesel distribution infrastucture

There are some very thoughtful ideas here, that I'd like to explore in more depth in future posts. But one thing that strikes me is that there are no "legislative showstoppers" on the list -- that is, judging from this list I would conclude that there are no state-level legislative barriers that are fundamental obstacles to biofuels development -- i.e., ultimately this seems like a list of "nice-to-haves" (perhaps very nice to have) and not "must haves."

I understand that there have been some state-level showstoppers in the past. This article [alt. link here] describes (among other things) that state legislative action was necessary to "classify biodiesel and ethanol as motor fuels, making it legal for them to be sold in Arizona."

Certainly the state is not the only relevant regulating entity, though. We have seen an example where an innovative biofuel company was stymied by local zoning regulations -- more on this soon. And there is no doubt that federal policy has a massive impact on biofuels (one small example: nobody sells B100 in the Valley; the best you can do is B99, because of federal tax policy).

Navigating through this complex policy environment is one critical piece of the local biofuels puzzle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Rough consensus and running code"

I think that Eric's open source biodiesel post really nailed the spirit of what we're trying to do. Along these same lines, a phrase from the Internet development community that I love is "rough consensus and running code." I think our approach will have a strong emphasis on "running code" -- that is, we'll focus on practical results, even if imperfect. I think we can measure success in tangible ways: e.g., I will be very happy the day that I can ditch my Prius and buy a diesel, knowing that I have a reliable, high-quality supply of locally-produced biodiesel available to put in the tank (I'm too mechanically inept to be a successful homebrewer, but I would happily be a customer of a co-op or commercial venture that sold biodiesel). If we can do something to help facilitate this result, I'll be thrilled.

I think one of the most immediate practical results of this effort that we can offer is a careful assessment of the state of biofuels in the Valley. Even something as simple of the list of Arizona biofuels entities listed in the right navbar of this page can be useful, I hope -- I know that many of these entities were not aware of others, for example. We're in the midst of reaching out and trying to talk to everyone we can who is active in this space, and we'll document our thoughts on this site.

Another key short term goal is to hold an informal summit or workshop where we get key Valley stakeholders together to discuss promoting a more robust biodiesel infrastructure in the region. Planning is underway for such a summit -- watch this space for more detail soon.

Who's who post #4: Ken Costello

Ken Costello leads a sustainability group at Mesa Community College and maintains a biodiesel page on small scale biodiesel production here. Ken and his brother Jerry have been teaching Community Ed classes on small-scale production; many of their previous students are making biodiesel for their vehicles. Jerry coordinated a Biodiesel Interest Group that has met in the East Valley.

Ken also teaches a chemistry class at Chandler-Gilbert Community College that addresses biodiesel and other environmental issues.

As Eric and I have been making the rounds, we've been thrilled with the level of interest various ASU entities have shown in biofuels. In many ways, however, the community colleges are even better positioned to have an immediate, practical impact on local biofuel development in the Valley. We're hopeful that MCC will expand its biofuel efforts and continue to be a leader among the Valley community colleges. Go Ken!

Open Source Biodiesel

The other problem with the straight proprietary commercial startup for us was a matter of choices. We wanted to do something that would assist in the development of a biofuels infrastructure in the Valley. A successful coop was already in place, which I had joined, and it seemed unnecessary and certainly divisive to duplicate that established effort. A straight commercial venture was underway as well, in fact there were a couple. None of them as yet were selling fuel to the general public, but Brad and I had a similar response regarding this as well.

We want to foster an open environment to help enable the biofuels stakeholders in the Valley to work together for their mutual success, and we believe there is a lot of common ground. Our goal is to have biofuels widely available in the Valley, and that broad mission gives us a lot of latitude when discussing these issues. There is no particular 'turf' we are trying to protect.

Our operating procedure is straight out of the Open Source software playbook: put something together and throw it out there, even if it isn't perfect, and see what kind of response we get. Like-minded folks can join in and participate at whatever level they feel comfortable, and by being open with everyone we hope to establish credibility with all the stakeholders working in this space: coop, commercial, educational, policy makers, what have you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Brother-in-law Test

Brad was very interested in hearing about my progress with homebrewing, and we discussed the possible reasons why biodiesel and biofuels generally weren't widely available here in the Valley. Lyle has an entire chapter in his book about the 'lure of the producer', how there is a predictable arc of discovery, enthusiasm, development and then the desire to commercialize. Some of our initial discussions were centered on a traditional start-up model, the idea of raising money to make and sell biodiesel and subsequently get rich. Why not?

So I made an appointment to talk to my brother-in-law, Luke, who founded a technology company here in Scottsdale, My Computer Works. One morning in December I made my way over to his offices, and once we settled into our chairs he asked me a question: how do you plan to make money? It's a legitimate question. He grabbed his laptop and we started putting together a pro forma profit/loss spreadsheet. It quickly became clear, based on our number WAGs, that feedstock costs were the key component in any discussion about biodiesel profitability. WVO is certainly the most attractive feedstock from that perspective.

But crunching some numbers and doing some hard thinking made me realize something else. There are tangible benefits from fostering and encouraging a local biofuels infrastructure, even if the immediate commercial opportunities are unclear. Brad's initial interest in my 'biodiesel project' was from a policy and legal perspective. Perhaps that was where the most immediate impact could be generated.

Who's who post #3: Dave Conz

At the risk of interrupting the flow of Eric's story, let me add another in the planned series of "who's who" posts.

Dave Conz is a professor at ASU, where he is core faculty in the Interdisciplinary Studies program and affiliated with the Center for Nanotechnology in Society and the Biodesign Institute. He's also a particularly experienced and sophisticated biodiesel homebrewer, and an expert on the history and sociology of the biodiesel homebrew movement. His Ph.D. dissertation “Citizen Technoscience: Amateur Networks in the International Grassroots Biodiesel Movement” provides a fascinating and very readable account of his personal biodiesel experience (in addition to deep sociological analysis). His short article "The Beautiful Smell of French Fries" (pdf) is a must-read as an introduction to biodiesel and some of the obstacles that must be overcome in order for biodiesel to thrive.

[Post edited by Brad 9/17/08 to remove link to outdated article. I'll also use the opportunity to report that DBI's relationship with Dave has deepened since our original post, and we're very pleased to count Dave among our key strategic advisors. We're still working on trying to convince him to guest blog and provide some of his always-trenchant insights about biofuels in this forum. :-)]

Monday, January 14, 2008

Infecting others

It was also about this time that I stated buying fuel from Western States Petroleum. They sell virgin soy-based biodiesel, made in IOWA and shipped in via rail (at about $.20/gal) and then blended at B99 (99% biodiesel and 1% petrol diesel) to take advantage of a federal $.01 per % blending credit.

WSP is the only Phoenix commercial vendor that I know about that sells biodiesel in the Valley. 3.5 million people and 1, yes ONE, biodiesel pump. (By the way, there are currently NO E85 ethanol pumps, but that's another issue.)

Something is wrong with this picture.

Most Saturday mornings I hang out with my buddy Brad and we talk about family, politics, the meaning of life... all the usual stuff. One Saturday I brought up a new topic: biodiesel. I ranted: how could it be that something so great was effectively unavailable in Phoenix? Tucson has several biodiesel pumps, Winslow has one, even Oracle, a wide-spot in the road on AZ77, has a biodiesel pump.

Brad is a smart guy. He drives a Prius. He wanted to know 'why' too.

[edited 2/1/08: WSP now has a e85 pump! ]

Getting the bug

After I obtained girl Mark's book I started making test batches of biodiesel. Now producing a liter or two of biodiesel from Safeway-bought canola oil is one thing, but producing WVO-based biodiesel presented some new challenges. First, I had to find some WVO...

My wife, Dorothy Johnson, co-owns a poster and framing shop in Scottsdale called posters mostly. A few doors down is an Italian deli called Guido's. Hey, I thought, Guido's sells broasted chicken! Since Dorothy and Joe have been business neighbors for over 25 years, I figured I had a reasonable chance of scoring some used fryer oil.

Fortunately for me Joe uses relatively little oil every week, so he didn't have a need for a dumpster-style collection container. He simply returned the used oil to the 5 gal plastic carboys and disposed of them. I explained what I was attempting, offered to take the carboys, and he was more than happy to let me have them.

In the meantime I was assembling parts from Ace Hardware, Lowe's, and various Internet vendors into what I hoped was a reasonable facsimile of a biodiesel processor. About this time I also made contact with Dynamite Biofuels and met Gene and Jay. For our first meeting I brought a 10 gallon WVO icebreaker with me, (2) 5 gallon carboys filled with WVO, my donation to the cause. We spent the next several hours talking about their setup and biofuels generally.

It's all Lyle's fault...

How did this all get started? How did an IP lawyer and a corporate pilot decide to get involved in the strange and wonderful world of biofuels?

It all started with a book...

About 5 months ago I was wandering through my local public library near my home in Phoenix, when I came across a brightly colored yellow and green book while browsing the shelves. I had purchased a 3/4 ton diesel truck the previous November with the intention of doing a lot of road trips and camping during the 2007 mountain bike race season. It had been in the back of my mind to investigate running biodiesel in the truck, since a riding buddy had been using it in his truck.

So, browsing casually, I saw this bright yellow cover and pulled the book from the shelf, checked it out and took it home. As I read I found myself captivated by the story and the personalities. There was a feeling of getting a sneak-peak into a phenomena ready to burst into public notice, of something incredibly important and immensely fun.

The book, Biodiesel Power: The Passion, the People, and the Politics of the Next Renewable Fuel by Lyle Estill is a wonderful introduction to the world of biodiesel, and provided the motivation to search the Internet for a more hands-on experience. One of the personalities featured prominently in the book is Maria 'Mark' Alovert (girl Mark). Her website Local B100 includes a link to her how-to book Homebrew Biodiesel Guide.

The Local B100 website includes a rationale for locally produced biofuels, which is the basis of many of our ideas of what we would like to see happen in Phoenix.

San Francisco as model for Valley municipalities?

In December San Francisco "completed a yearlong project to convert its entire array of diesel vehicles — from ambulances to street sweepers — to biodiesel, a clean-burning and renewable fuel that holds promise for helping to reduce greenhouse gases" according to this article. Virgin soy-based biodiesel, though (our DBI vision focuses more on non-food-crop-derived biofuels).

SF has also launched "SFGreasecycle, a free program in which the city will pick up used cooking oil and grease from local restaurants, hotels and other commercial food preparation establishments. Those substances then will be turned into biodiesel, a fuel made of plant oil that burns cleaner than petroleum-based fuels." (link) Hopefully this fuel will supplement or replace the virgin soy-based biodiesel.

Some good ideas for Valley municipalities here?

It's worth noting that SFGreasecycle has some skeptics.

Who's who post #2: ASU Biodesign Institute

There are several different Arizona State University entities that have a connection to biofuels, and we'll identify others in future "who's who" posts. The Biodesign Institute has had a high profile in connection with some fascinating and well-funded research it is undertaking in connection with "specially optimized photosynthetic bacterium" biofuel feedstock, in partnership with British Petroleum and Science Foundation Arizona (press release here).

Who's who post #1: Dynamite Biofuels Co-op

Gene Leach and Jay Nance at Dynamite Biofuels Co-Op are leaders in the Phoenix-area biodiesel community. Dynamite is (as far as we know) the only biodiesel co-op in the Valley, and Gene and Jay have been active both locally and nationally in promoting biofuels. Gene writes:

Jay and I started trying to figure out how to make biodiesel about 3 years ago with a clear intention to grow our efforts into a functioning coop and eventually expand to include a commercial operation. We are both very busily self-employed and have done most everything with found objects in our spare time. We now have put so much time, effort and money into this that we can’t afford to quit! Not that we want to, though it seems everyday has a new challenge. At any rate, that’s my Reader’s Digest history of Dynamite Biofuels Coop.

[post edited 1/15]

Welcome to the Desert Biofuels Initiative blog!

Our goal with this blog is compile news stories and other information that is directly relevant to the development of biofuels in the Phoenix/Valley of the Sun area and throughout Arizona. We don't intend this as a general biofuel blog. We'll also provide commentary at times, but we're hopeful that the information compilation function alone will be valuable.

Our efforts to date have largely focused on biodiesel, and biodiesel will likely be a primary focus of the blog at least initially. We intend to cover other relevant biofuels developments as well, however.

Over the next several weeks we'll roll out a series of "who's who" posts, identifying some of the key players in biofuels in the region. We'll also share a backlog of interesting news stories that we've been accumulating.

We very much welcome input! Eric can be contacted at; Brad at