Biodiesel finds home in backyards, fueling station

By for CAES News

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

The biodiesel topic is hitting the lips of those working in places ranging from labs to government regulations offices. As fuel prices continue to mount, many Americans have started hunting ways to make transportation more economical.

And that includes the production of biodiesel.

“Biodiesel has true scale-ability,” said Rob Del Bueno of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It can be made in a multimillion-gallon tank or in a 2-liter bottle in a kitchen if done carefully.”

Del Bueno knows this firsthand. After college, he promoted a band that played gigs wherever they could get them. To save money, they converted the tour van to run on vegetable oil taken straight from the fryers at the bars where they played.

Del Bueno was hooked, not on the band, but on the fuel they used. He started tearing apart engines, making his own biodiesel and running his car on it. He then started making it for his friends. After an article in a local newspaper, the Environmental Projection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service also got interested, and he was audited and slammed with fees.

From the curious to the Georgia legislature, interest in biodiesel is picking up steam.

According to Ryan Adolphson, director of the University of Georgia’s Biomass Processing Pilot Plant Facilities, from 1995 to 2005, four Georgia bills on biomass were introduced. In 2006 alone, at least eight bills came before the state legislature pertaining to biomass energy in general with six bills directly targeting biodiesel.

In fact, Georgia Senate Bill 636 that passed in 2006 makes it illegal for someone to produce biodiesel for resale if that biodiesel does not meet standard specifications. And testing for those specifications is expensive.

A license for a small biodiesel producer, who is someone who produces less than 250,000 gallons a year, costs $2,500 per year. That doesn’t include the costs for extensive tests to make sure the product is engine and road-ready.

“It’s really easy to make biodiesel. To make it right is really hard,” said Dan Gellar, who is on the UGA engineering department faculty and has been researching biodiesel for the past 10 years.

According to Dan Walsh of National Tribology Services Inc., those hoping to produce biodiesel for resale should expect to ask for a loan between $1 million and $2.5 million just to cover startup costs, and then expect to pay between $800 and $1,300 for each complete test a lab runs on each sample from each batch they produce.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Greg Hopkins said of the biodiesel movement. “It’s a chemical manufacturing operation from the largest scale to the smallest. You have to factor agriculture on one end and fuel on the other and regulations on both. The bottom line is that it’s hard, but it’s incredibly rewarding if you do it.”

Hopkins is a biodiesel producer and owns U.S. Biofuels in Rome, Ga. It’s his fuel that’s flowing through the first biodiesel pump in Athens, Ga., which opened Tuesday, May 16, at the price of $2.92 per gallon.

As the new industry takes its first few steps, “the biomass industry needs to work together and be directly involved in the legislative process,” Adolphson said. “This means that agriculture and industry have to determine together what realistic goals and targets can be achieved.”

This includes everyone from people who want to run biodiesel in their own tractors to large producers, he said.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.