I’m not so sure. Everywhere I turn, I hear about local, state, or federal government impeding the growth of the biodiesel industry. In my previous article, I spell out one of the common myths and misconceptions about biodiesel, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s more than that.
In a nutshell, it’s probably just the fear of change. We’re used to petroleum. In the late 1890’s, when gasoline as a fuel was new and the majority of the few automobiles that existed were actually steam or electric, people feared gasoline as a dangerous explosive that would detonate spontaneously. People had to be reassured that gasoline was safe.
Rudolf Diesel had a solution, burn peanut oil in his new engine. It was much safer than gasoline, was renewable, and smelled better when it burned. The diesel engine had better reliability and fewer parts. But, the petroleum industry refineries had cheap fuel, and a really sulfurous (and otherwise useless) fuel oil byproduct that could be burned in Diesel’s engine with little to no modification. Thus, the petroleum industry had yet another avenue for their products, and the renewable fuel industry was killed before it was ever even born.
It seems to me we’re in a slightly different, but still very reminiscent place today. Petroleum is becoming scarce, and renewable fuels, still the same after all these years, are ready to step in. Yet I keep reading about (and experiencing first hand) proposed biodiesel plants being blocked by fire marshals, planning and zoning commissions, historical societies, and even mayors. Why?
Most small to medium sized biodiesel plants are not funded by large conglomerates such as ADM or Cargill. They are being built by entrepreneurs such as TBI which in most cases wish to reuse existing facilities such as chemical plants, textile plants, dairies, warehouses, or fuel depots and revitalize the local economy while doing so. What’s so bad about that?
Biodiesel as a product is extremely safe, and the process to produce it is considered safe as well if properly planned and effectively managed. Most processes are self-contained, fumeless, and pose very few hazards in the way of environmental impact. This isn’t fiction. There are already hundreds of biodiesel plants in many parts of the world that are located in urban, industrial locations without problem. Europe is a great example.
So, does our government really want biodiesel? I don’t know. They say they do, but their actions don’t really convey the same message. “It’s much too dangerous to build a biodiesel plant near residential or commercial locations”, “We don’t want to smell your refinery belching out putrid smoke all hours of the day”, “You’re going to have to have double or even triple containment around your tanks” (for class IIIB liquids, no less), “You have to install a sprinkler system in your plant” (for an oil fire, no less), “You are classified as a low level hazardous waste facility” (my favorite).
Nonsense. It’s just change. And, it’s good change. (Standing on soap box, waving the American flag) It helps the local economy, it is renewable, it’s safe to store and use, it’s more ecologically friendly, it’s more physiologically friendly, and it reduces our dependency on foreign oil. How can all that be bad?
Want to help? Ask your local city councilman, state representative, or congressman what he or she is doing to help promote biodiesel in your area. Get them thinking about renewable fuels and instead of just talking about it, doing something about it. Make them hear you, a phone call or a letter a day for three days ought to do it. Tell them you want to see biodiesel and ethanol pumps in your neighborhood.