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 :-)