Biodiesel Pride

Tonight, about 10pm, I found myself driving home from Durham, dangerously low on fuel. I knew I could easily fill up on biofuel tomorrow in Pittsboro at my local coop, Piedmont Biofuels, but a few unexpected errands today meant it was 42 miles since the fuel light had come on. That’s cutting it close, and it was now way beyond dark.

I was doing my best at coasting whenever I could, but as I am came into the outskirts of Pittsboro, I took a chance and pulled into the new Cruizers that has opened up at the Hwy 64 Bypass exit, where 64 meets up with Hwy 15-501 that goes north to Chapel Hill, and South to downtown Pittsboro, Sanford, Southern Pines and beyond.

I was relieved to see a bright green Diesel sign above two of the six stands of pumps. I slid into one, planning to buy a gallon or so just to make sure I made it home. Tomorrow I could swing by Piedmont and get a fill. Their fuel might be a few cents more expensive (at least right now – last year it was 25 cents a gallon lower than regular diesel for months…) but the satisfaction of using a fuel made from used cooking oil that might otherwise be wasted, and the joy of a running on a fuel that is made, not extracted at a horrific human cost, as in ‘no war required’ –  easily overshadows the slightly higher cost. Plus my Jetta is extremely gets great “biodiesel’ mileage.

If we vote with every dollar we spend, and of course that is exactly true, a tank full of biodiesel says I vote for sensible, long-term, adequately funded biodiesel production, and a sustainable future for the many generations we hope will follow us on this beautiful and bountiful planet.

B100 at Cruizers? Really?

But as I pulled up to the pump at Cruizers I saw the sign on the pump. Biodiesel.  Wow.  Biodiesel! Just what I wanted. B100 right here at Cruizers!

I love the stuff. My daughters and I now own three Jetta TDI’s, a 2002, a 2003 and a 2004. They have all been running, for years, on as much biodiesel as they can find, and they are very happy cars.

They are especially happy with the B9000 grade B100 that we can fill up on at Piedmont Biofuels in our little town of Pittsboro.

Was that what they were selling here on the edge of town?

I am on the board of the Piedmont coop that runs the “trail” and one of about 400 members. We run on fuel made by a locally owned and operated, community scale biodiesel plant that employs a talented cadre of people skilled in the production and distribution of this liquid gold.

My little red Jetta gets the first fill at the new pumping station in Wilmington, NC

Just by collecting used cooking oil from area restaurants, and adding in other unusable oils headed for the waste stream, Piedmont Biofuels is able to spin this all into a very high quality diesel fuel.

Their plant is not only available to tour on Sundays and occasional Fridays, they have turned a quirky, abandoned chemical plant into a verdant, vibrant eco-park that combines organic farming, industrial evolution, and a non-profit foundation that promotes local food, clean energy, and community building – all in eye and earshot of one another. On Fridays we all come together for a local food lunch.

It’s astounding really.

But why bother driving the extra 4 miles, and having to be a card carrying member of the Piedmont coop, when I could get the very same product right here, just a few miles north of town?

By gosh, I’ll bet it is the very same fuel, I thought to myself. After all…it says it right there on the pump. Biodiesel. Why sure. That makes perfect sense.

Except, sadly, it doesn’t.

Nothing really, about our entire fuel industry makes “sense.” Not if you’re talking about the plain, honest, altruistic, common sense that some of us try to use to make ‘sense’ of the world we live in.

Like if you’re running low on something, and it’s valuable and hard to come by, and there might not be enough to go around – you find ways to get along with less.  That makes sense.

So what’s coming out of those pumps at Cruizers?

In the wine world you can’t say your wine’s a Chardonnay unless it’s at least 50% true. Years ago, pride in their grapes led winemakers to insist on some standards, so the buying public would know what they were getting. It was a matter of principle, and quality, and of honesty.

This Friday there is a big party at our local biodiesel plant. They’ve discovered a way to use enzymes to make the whole production process more renewable, use far less water, and turn nasty gunk that is deeper in the waste stream than used cooking oil into a viable fuel. Very clever.

They are celebrating this success. I heard that the CEO of the National Biodiesel Board is coming to town for the ribbon cutting. I’ll bet he is proud of biodiesel.

Maybe he can help me find out if what’s flowing out of the pumps at Cruizers is the real deal, or if it’s actually just petroleum, with a biodiesel chaser.