Yet Another Lazy Reporter

What is it with the media and biofuels?  Do they simply refuse to try to do ANY research, or is it just too complicated for them to understand?

This time it’s Sakina Rangwala of the Washington Post, writes an article “Green Is in the Eye of the Beholder” (link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/06/AR2009020603539.html).  

When discussing biodiesel as one of the “Green Car Technologies”, Rangwala has this to say: “Biodiesel can be used in any diesel vehicle but automakers will extend their warranty protection only to vehicles that run on B5 biodiesel. B5 is a mixture of 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent conventional diesel.

Even a simple Google search for “Biodiesel Engine Warranty” yielded a link to the NBB website would have revealed no fuels are really warrantied by any manufacturer, but that many, many manufacturers support higher blends than B5.  Here’s the link: http://www.biodiesel.org/resources/oems/default.shtm

It would also have revealed that the US government mandated using B20 in all government vehicles and many states have mandated B20 as well.  There are even some engine manufacturers that will endorse B100.  How hard was that, well, it took me longer to write this blog entry than it did to research it on Google.  Sad.

Perhaps the NBB needs to have a “Media Liaison Service 1-800” number to help answer questions for reporters who can’t seem to do the research on their own.  The public is confused enough as it is about biofuels without having bad reporting make the situation more confusing.

Glycerin Glut

We have about 25,000 gallons of crude glycerin we need to sell.  We’ve been talking to several buyers, but the market appears to be a little slow for glycerin, just like everything else.

We have a COA available, and are pretty motivated on the price.  We’re working on a possible solution to mix the glycerin with soap and additional lye and fats to make a suitable binder for sawdust logs for another company. 

Interested buyers please use the Contact Us page on the main TBI website.

Pennsylvania to require Biodiesel Blend

Well, our state can’t seem to get it together yet, but here’s another state that is requiring a mandatory biodiesel blend for all diesel sold in the state:

The governor of Pennsylvania has confirmed that each gallon of diesel fuel in that state will contain at least two percent biodiesel starting in January of 2010, according to information from the National Biodiesel Board (NBB).

“The major challenge we’ve always had is getting fuel out to the public,” said Ben Wootton, president of the Pennsylvania Biodiesel Producers Group and president of Keystone Biofuels. “We repeatedly hear ‘Where can I buy the fuel?’ This legislation helps ensure that the oil companies’ terminals offer biodiesel product.”

The legislation, passed in July 2008, called for a blend of B2 (two percent biodiesel, 98 percent diesel fuel) in each gallon of biodiesel sold in Pennsylvania. This was contingent upon the in-state production of biodiesel of 40 million gallons, which has now been met, the NBB said.

Producers have maintained a 3.3 million gallon per-month average for a 90 day period. The 12-month period from January 2009, until the effective date January 2010, is to allow infrastructure to be built up to prepare for the additional biodiesel sales, NBB said.

Cold Filter News Media Clogging

It appears the press has been clogged with cold weather gunk again, passing along hype and failing to freely flow the researched, verified truth.  This time, there have been dozens of reports in print, television, and radio that hundreds of school children were left stranded in the cold when biodiesel fuel school buses failed to operate in the cold northern climate last week.  It seems that it’s big news to bash the alternative fuel business, preferring to stay firmly entrenched in OPEC’s firm grasp.

The official report by the state of Minnesota is as follows:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Citing an independent study, the Minnesota Department of Commerce reiterated today that biodiesel was not the culprit that caused school buses in Bloomington, Minn. to malfunction last week.

“The problems with school buses in Minnesota had nothing to do with biodiesel,” said Bill Walsh, Communications Director for the Minnesota Department of Commerce. “An independent investigation confirmed what we believed last week – when it gets to 20 degrees below zero in the Midwest, diesel engines have trouble operating unless they are properly maintained – whether or not they are using a biodiesel blend.”

The report concluded components in diesel fuel caused the problem, even though the Bloomington School District claimed it was biodiesel.

“Nothing is more important than getting kids to school safely, which is why we worked proactively to find out exactly what troubled the buses in Bloomington,” said Ed Hegland, National Biodiesel Board Chairman.

The report issued Friday by Meg Corp. and paid for by the distributor that supplied the fuel, Yokum Oil, analyzed filters from the buses that broke down. The buses were using B2, which is 98 percent petroleum diesel blended with 2 percent biodiesel. Minnesota has a statewide B2 mandate in effect. “We found that whatever was plugging the filters was not biodiesel, but a substance found in petroleum,” the report concludes.

No other area school districts or diesel operators reported similar problems.

A B2 blend, when properly handled, will perform just like diesel. The biodiesel industry works closely with the petroleum industry and offers many resources regarding biodiesel use in cold climates.

Cold Weather Anti-Gel Additive Testing Results

We did some very informal tests here at the plant to try to determine which anti-gel additive would work best for our fuel.  We’ve been using the Stantadyne Winter 1000 additive with pretty good results, but decided to test some other products on the market to see what results we would get.  All tests were done with pure B100 biodiesel fuel made from virgin soybean oil and waste vegetable oil.

The photo on the left was taken when the ambient temperature was 14°F.  The photo on the right was taken two days later when the ambient temperature was 41°F.

Anti-gel additive cold weather test  B100 anti-gel after thaw

The samples are (from left to right):

  1. Control Sample (pure biodiesel)
  2. Stantadyne Winter 1000 (3ml added to 450ml)
  3. Artic Express (3ml added to 450ml)
  4. AAA Biodiesel Cold Flow Additive (3ml added to 450ml)
  5. B80 (80% biodiesel to 20% petroleum diesel)

Interesting to note is that the pure biodiesel sample returned to normal after warming up, with only slight waxing noticeable in the fuel.  The additive samples were still well waxed, and would undoubtedly cause problems with filters until warmed up further.  The 5th sample on the right of the second picture is B80 (20% petroleum diesel), which was added to the test but not included in the first photo.  It did considerably better than all the other samples tested.

22°F and Still Going…

Woke up this morning to 22°F weather and a little bit concerned that my VW Passat might not start.  We’ve tested down to 28°F, but haven’t been this low running B100 on any vehicle yet. 

So I unlocked the doors, which were a bit sticky from the cold weather, and looked at the 1L control group bottle of B100 laying in a box in the back seat.  It was almost solid.  Uh oh.   The fuel gauge showed the tank was only 1/4 full, so I wasn’t sure if there was enough mass to have kept it liquid overnight.  Certainly 1L didn’t seem to be enough to stay fluid in the cold. 

I sat down in the driver’s seat, turned the key to get the glow plugs going, after 5 seconds, I turned the ignition.  It started!    I shut the door and drove off into work.  So far, so good.

We’re running B100 in all of our company fleet trucks and personal diesel vehicles, in an attempt to remove some of the doubts cast by problems with animal fat biodiesel that was used in the Carolinas last winter, causing many fuel gelling problems.  Based upon the control group biodiesel sample this morning, I think we may be at the bottom of the temperature scale without adding anti-gel compounds or blending with petro-diesel, but I was happy to see that I could get into work this morning running B100 in 22°F degree winter weather.

UPDATE (Jan 18, 2009):  Okay, so I woke up yesterday morning and it was 9°F.  I knew from the previous day that 100% biodiesel was going to be risky at these low temperatures, so I’d blended in about 20% petroleum diesel (B80).  Call me chicken, but I wanted to be able to start my car in the morning and get into work.  It started and ran just fine in my finicky VW Passat TDI.   That’s good news, since that’s about as cold as it gets here in central North Carolina. 

We’ve been doing some extensive cold weather biodiesel additive testing recently, and have found that our current addative, Stantadyne Winter 1000, works pretty well, but there are some better alternatives that can reduce the gel point even further.   I’ll post more information about it in another article once we have more data.

B100 at 22F

Thanksgiving Turkey Fryer Oil Pickup

Well, we’re back to that time of year when we are offering to pickup used fryer oil from individuals, churches, and civic groups who are going to fry a turkey (or whatever else) for Thanksgiving. 

We will be making pickups on the Saturday AFTER Thanksgiving in the Raleigh and Wilson areas.  You must have at least 5 gallons, and it must be in a sealed container (preferably the original cubee the oil came in).   Place the container on the curb of your home or building and notify us by calling us at 866-244-0555, or use the “Contact Us” page at http://www.trianglebiofuels.com/contact.php to notify us of your pickup.   Please give us your name and address, and approximatley how many gallons are waiting.

If you are in the Wilson area,  you can drop off your oil at any time at our production facility.  The address and a map are on the “Contact Us” page of our website.

Thanks for your cooperation!

Biodiesel Changes

What a weird time to be in the biodiesel business…

After watching diesel fuel prices nearly hit $5.00 a gallon on the east coast, they’re now dropping down below $3.50 a gallon at the pumps.   Congress just passed the energy bill, which now makes all biodiesel feedstocks eligible for a $1.00 per gallon credit.  Translation – the waste vegetable oil renderers and brokers can now charge more for WVO because we can get a $1 per gallon credit instead of $.50 per gallon.  Thanks.

The biodiesel blenders credit was designed to make biodiesel “more affordable” as a subsidy to help the general public be encouraged to use biodiesel as an alternative diesel fuel.  The fear at the time it was created was that the biodiesel plants would take the credit and not pass it along to the consumers.  Instead, the feedstock suppliers are charging more per gallon than they used to, thus taking the credit internally without having to do all the paperwork that we blenders have to file.  Nice.   Perhaps I should have started a crushing plant instead of a biodiesel plant…

The odd thing is soybean oil (‘bean oil’) is coming down in price.  It was over .60/lb ($4.56/gallon) earlier this year, now it’s down to .35/lb ($2.66/gallon).   WVO is currently supposed to be going for .20/lb ($1.52/gallon), yet we’re currently getting offers at around .29 – .31 per lb.  We’re not buying.  

There’s a squeeze going on right now.  The economy has been tanking, and there’s a struggle right now between falling fuel prices and falling feedstock prices.  Our biodiesel price has come down too, but we never really jacked it up that high this summer like some plants did.  Still, it’s a wait and see situation to determine where the feedstock and chemical prices are going to fall.  Stay tuned.  It should be very interesting.

The Press is at it again – This time in the UK

So The Guardian is at it now.  This time with a double whammy bashing biodiesel and ethanol by saying in two different articles that there is a “secret World Bank study” that was leaked claiming that it was indeed the biofuels industry that caused food prices to spike 75%, and now, we should “put the brakes on biofuels” because they are bad for the planet.

Yet again, the media sees fit to take sensationalism over the truth, and pubslished complete rubbish about the industry.  At least in this country, and I’m assuming that’s what The Guardian was aiming at since it’s in vogue to hate the U.S. these days, we don’t use food grade crops to make biofuels (especially ethanol).  Most ethanol plants are using corn typically used to feed livestock, and form Dry Distillers Grains (DDGs), during the process, which are still fed to livestock.  Hmmm.

And as far as putting the brakes on biofuels as an alternative fuel because they are so evil, just what exactly do you propose instead?  Horse and Buggy?  Steam power?  Water wheels?  Slaves?  I just don’t get where these folks are coming from.  Biodiesel and ethanol are not alternative fuels people, they are the next fuel.  We are running out of petroleum. The Saudi’s are estimating their supplies ending around 2030, and the last 70% will be twice as expensive to get out than the first 30% was.  That’s why the gasoline is so expensive!  Why can’t the media seem to get that through their thick skulls? 

It’s a shame.   The only accurate articles I’ve read in the media lately about biofuels are either from biofuel trade journals, or articles from the press where they have actually interviewed someone from a biofuels plant.  Our own Wilson Daily Times seems to do a better job than most of the national publications I read out there.  Why? Because they actually try to get the story right, instead of just selling advertising.

Why can’t the media get it right?

Update: May 3, 2008 –

Having just put down the Triangle Business Journal article which reads  “Biodiesel may be North Carolina’s next energy hedge”, I see the “No Journalist Left Behind” paradox continues.  (Read the full article here: http://triangle.bizjournals.com/triangle/stories/2008/05/05/story2.html)   Apparently Frank Vinluan didn’t take chemistry in high school or college, nor did he bother to have anyone check his article.  The photo caption, which clearly shows a man standing in front of tanks clearly labeled as Methanol and Potassium Hydroxide, reads “David Thornton shows methane tanks at a biodiesel plant he is working on as design-builder in the Chatham County town of Pittsboro.”  Okay, last I checked, Methane (CH4) is a gas, while Methanol (CH3OH or MeOH) is a liquid.  You don’t use Methane to make biodiesel, period. 

Starting to get why I’m so irritated with the media? 

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I just finished watching “Modern Marvels” on the History channel, where they did a special on truck stops and truckers.  They finished the show talking about biodiesel and Willy Nelson.  “Great,” I thought, “some good press about biodiesel in the media”.  Except, once again as happens way too many times, the reporter equates straight vegetable oil with biodiesel.

To the layman, I can see why it’s easy to confuse.  Rudolf Diesel first invented his engine to run on Peanut oil, as the reporter accurately claimed.  However, for a reporter, who is suppose to research things before he reports them, even an extra 10 minutes using Google or Wikipedia in his investigation would have told him that the modern engine looks almost nothing like Rudolf Diesel’s engine, and that while it’s true that they can run straight vegetable oil, almost none do because it’s harmful for the engine. 

The other thing he would have found, as posted other places on this blog and our corporate website, is that straight vegetable oil (SVO) and Biodiesel are not the same thing. 

I’ll say it once more in more simple format: “Vegetable Oil Is Not Biodiesel“. 

So, what do biodiesel and straight vegetable oil have in common?  Biodiesel is usually made from vegetable oil.  But, in truth, biodiesel can be made from animal fats too, or people fat, for that matter.  Through a process called transesterification, vegetable oil is stripped and converted into Biodiesel (which is technically called a mono-alkyl ester).  This new chemical, trade named “Biodiesel”, is now more chemically similar to petroleum diesel, and has many of the same characteristics of it’s petroleum cousin.  It is even accepted by the EPA as an approved fuel and fuel addative, and has an ASTM standard (D-6751).  Vegetable Oil doesn’t have any of that.

See, Vegetable Oil is food, Biodiesel is fuel.

I bet I’ve heard this mistake seven or eight times in the media over the last two years.  Is there some kind of “No Journalist Left Behind” policy in the university system that I’ve not heard of?  Seems like there isn’t much pride or professionalism left in that industry.  So, get it right next time, Mr. Reporter.  Do the homework, research, confirm, THEN publish.

You’re not helping our industry by adding to the confusion that the average consumer already has about biofuels.