Biodiesel all the way

This weekend was fun. Friday after work, I drove down to Pittsboro in Chatham County for a 2-hour discussion forum on biodiesel. And Saturday and Sunday the program was all-biodiesel, all-day, at girl Mark’s workshop at Chatham County Community College.

Both events were organized by the tireless folks at Piedmont Biofuels Coop. Friday’s discussion brought together a crowd of 75 – from curious biodiesel novices to seasoned brewers and activists from all over North Carolina. Biodiesel coops and biofuels-related organizations from all over the state were represented: Burlington Biodiesel, Blue Ridge Biofuels out of Asheboro, Cape Fear Biofuels from Wilmington, Appstate Biodiesel Boone, Bull City Biodiesel (yours truly :)) and Carolina Biodiesel (Mark’s new baby – still under the wings of the Forest Foundation) as well as the folks from Pritchard’s Mountain, from the Human Kindness Foundation and from Guilford Tech. Last, and most importantly, Piedmont Biofuels, the organizers of the event were well-represented.

The discussion covered a lot of ground, from from production issues to pricing and economics, to organizational questions. One suggestion that seemed to get some traction was the idea of forming a state-wide biodiesel council the coops could join. That would allow each member coop to honor memberships reciprocity. A brief discussion touched on the question of a tax holiday for biofuels in North Carolina. On Sunday in a smaller group, Lyle elaborated on some of his experiences, and frustrations, lobbying in Raleigh for this issue of a tax holiday for biofuels.

Personally, I came away from this discussion with two main thoughts and action items:
1) We should try to tighten Bull City’s organization and probably spin it out of Piedmont. This is not meant in any way as a statement against Piedmont Biofuels – rather as an act of support. Piedmont has helped us tremendously in th process of getting Bull City off the ground, but I think that Bull City can “stand on its own feet” and take responsibility for its own overhead.
2) North Carolina needs a state-wide biodiesel council that has a mandate to represent the biodiesel community, both coops and backyarders
I think that activists as well as backyarders have a significant interest in educating the state legislators and other key government officials, like fire marshalls, about what biodiesel is, and what the benefits of biodiesel are for our state. The best way to accomplish this would be an umbrella organization that has some clout beyond individual activists or coops.

The tax-holiday issue is a bit of a double-edged sword, in my mind. From a point of principle, I think there is no question in my mind that the state should not tax alternative, non-petro fuels for road use. Such a move would go a long way to promote the use of biodiesel, which is good for the environment, the economy (by supporting American farmers and businesses), and our state-karma (which needs it).

On the other hand, lower prices for biodiesel increase the demand, and when the producers have trouble keeping up with the demand, invariable low-quality junk biodiesel gets into fuel tanks. Also, more users with little experience or understanding of biodiesel pump the “good juice.” And when soccer moms or truckers get stuck on the side of the highway after filling up with biodiesel, it’s bad news for all alt. fuels. As much as I think everyone should use biodiesel to cruise the highway, we really need to get to where everyone wants to use biodiesel. In the meantime, we early adopters have to spread the word, educate folks about biodiesel, and work out the kinks.

Most importantly, I think, will be reliable quality control for biodiesel. We need simple, cheap tests that anyone can administer to test for mono- and diglycerides, soap and water in the fuel. Only when consumers can test the fuel they buy with standardized tests, can we effectively combat cheap, substandard junk fuel. Effective quality control will be essential to the long-term survival of biodiesel.

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