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The on-line presence of
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Dallas Business Journal - Click for a bigger image
Willie warbles for Biodiesel, Denton buys in - Dallas Business Journal - October 15th 2004

Willie warbles for biodiesel;
Denton buys in

Singer invests in pump; Calif. co. to build plant in Denton - By Margaret Allen - Staff Writer

A California company and the city of Denton are building a manufacturing plant to make the clean-air fuel known as "biodiesel," and a biodiesel public access pump has opened south of Dallas with the help of country music star Willie Nelson.

The pump is believed to be the first public pump for biodiesel in Texas, and the plant is believed to be the first in Texas built specifically to produce biodiesel, said industry experts.

Researchers say the increasingly popular diesel alternative -- derived from vegetable oil or other renewable biological sources -- eliminates health-harming pollutants generated now by petroleum diesel. Biodiesel can be used without modifying diesel vehicles.

While Europe has been using biodiesel for decades, it's only been in the last five years the fuel's caught on in the United States. It's purchased primarily by government entities, including the military, but its usage is still minimal.
From the October 15, 2004 print edition of the Dallas Business Journal

Peter Bell fueling John Kerry's campaign busThe fuel is being touted, however, by an increasing number of celebrities who like the fuel to power their tour buses, according to Peter Bell, owner of Addison-based Distribution Drive, who has supplied biodiesel to many celebrities passing through Dallas-Fort Worth.

Just last week, Bell was called to fill Sen. John Kerry's campaign bus with 100 gallons of B20, a popular mix of 80% regular diesel fuel and 20% biodiesel.

Nelson uses it in all his buses and trucks.

True believer

"We've started using it exclusively," said Nelson, in an interview with the Dallas Business Journal. He recently bought 7,500 gallons of biodiesel from Bell to sell to the public through a gas pump at Carl's Corner, the landmark truck stop on Interstate 35 about 60 miles south of Dallas. Nelson is friends with the owner, Carl Cornelius.

The star, in his 19th year with FarmAid to publicize the plight of family farmers, said he likes the fuel because not only does it reduce air pollution and cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil, it also supports American farmers.

"This has the potential to keep us from being dependent on foreign oil. We can grow our way out of this," Nelson said. "This is not new, it's just been swept under the rug."

Compared to petroleum diesel, biodiesel -- made from soybeans or even used cooking oil -- reduces carbon monoxide emissions, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, benzene and particulate matter that causes respiratory damage. It also eliminates the cloud of smoke associated with diesel vehicles and the exhaust smells like popcorn or French fries.

Fueling Willie Nelson's tour bus

"It's so clean," Nelson said, "tell anybody if they back their car into the garage, close the door, leave the motor running and go to sleep, when they wake up in the morning they will have gained five pounds and that's it. There's nothing dangerous about it."

Denton to buy fuel

California-based Biodiesel Industries plans to start construction in 2005 of a 10,000-square-foot biodiesel manufacturing plant at the city of Denton's more than 200-acre landfill south of the city on Mayhill Road.

Powered in large part by methane gas from the landfill, the $700,000 plant will make 3 million gallons a year. Denton will buy 300,000 gallons a year for its fleet of diesel vehicles, said Vance Kemler, director of solid waste management. The city is investing $670,000 in plant equipment, which it will lease back to privately held Biodiesel Industries.

Biodiesel will ramp up to full capacity "as fast as we can get the raw materials in the door," said Charles Fiedler, operations manager for Biodiesel Industries of Greater Dallas-Fort Worth L.L.C. It will sell the rest through a joint-venture, wholesale distributor partnership. The company already operates three such plants, one each in Nevada, California and Australia.

"There will be a revenue stream from it, and the city of Denton will share in that," said Fiedler. "It'll be profitable in a reasonable amount of time for the investors."

Growth industry

Nationwide, production of biodiesel has increased from one million gallons three years ago to 20 million gallons in 2004, Fiedler said. At the same time, the nation consumes about 1 billion gallons of petroleum diesel annually.

"So biodiesel is just a drop in the bucket," he said. "The industry is really in its infancy. The production capacity is just not there because petroleum diesel has always been a real cheap fuel -- it was basically considered a waste product of gasoline production."

The gap between the cost of biodiesel and petroleum diesel has been a major factor dampering the clean air fuel's demand. Nelson said he paid $2.11 a gallon for the biodiesel B20 mix at Carl's Corner. Carl's Corner sells it for $2.25 a gallon. Regular diesel is running about $2.05.

The price gap could narrow and demand increase, however, as the House and Senate this week passed the nation's first biodiesel tax credit, and President Bush is expected to sign it.

Questioning emissions

State and local clean air officials hesitate to embrace the fuel, saying research shows it has higher emissions of Nitrogen Oxide, or NOx, than petroleum diesel. NOx is generated by combustion engines and is a precursor, in sunlight, to health-damaging ozone, or smog. A 12-county region of North Texas, including Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin counties, is not in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act for its high ozone levels, half of it from vehicles. The area must comply by 2010 or it loses tens of millions of dollars in federal highway funds.

Biodiesel reduces all emissions regulated by the federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with the exception of NOx. An EPA study found B20 boosts NOx emissions 2%. But so-called particulate matter is cut 10%, hydrocarbons decline 21%, and carbon monoxide is cut 11%.

"(Biodiesel) is a really neat fuel that reduces a ton of pollution, but unfortunately it increases NOx, which contributes to ozone, which is what we have a problem with," said Mindy Mize, senior transportation planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the area's clean air planning agency.

The Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, however, found that a recently developed biodiesel additive from Connecticut-based Clean Diesel Technologies Inc. (OTCBB: CDTI) reduced biodiesel's NOx emissions 5% over petroleum diesel fuel.

Mize said COG doesn't have that research in hand.

"We really can't fully support (biodiesel) until we see proof that we can bring to the higher-ups in our agency," Mize said.

The region's the worse for that, said Jake Stewart, an alternative fuels adviser to the COG.

"The COG seems almost tunnel-visioned on the NOx issue," Stewart said. "It's sort of the baby out with the bath water. NOx threatens the highway funds. So they're putting all their eggs in the NOx basket in disregard to other more harmful pollutants."

mallen@bizjournals.com

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