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.