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Alert: Report From the California Biodiesel Consumers' Conference

by Ross Plesset Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004 at 6:40 AM

Is it possible to have a community-created, low emissions, automotive fuel source? The California Biodiesel Conusemers' Conference is working toward that goal.

UPCOMING EVENTS

* March 7th: "Biodiesel Mixin' Mixer," a demonstration where biodiesel will be made. Path to Freedom in Pasaden.

* March 18 is the birthday of biodiesel pioneer Rudolph Diesel. Various events are being planned, but nothing concrete has been established. Look for announcements at biodieselcouncil.org.

* Many other events are being planned. Information on them can also be found at biodieselcouncil.org.

BIODIESEL SITES

  • Biodieselnow.com
  • Journeytoforever.org
  • Veggieavenger.com
Participants of the California Biodiesel Consumers' Conference came from all over California, Colorado, and the east coast. On the first day, attendees were brought up to speed on issues concerning biodiesel (i.e., 100% biodiesel), and ideas were brainstormed. On day two, the focus was on concrete steps to create an infrastructure and community base for widespread biodiesel use. It was generally agreed that there should be an association of biodiesel producers and users, to be called the Biodiesel Council of California (see www.biodieselcouncil.org), but that excess structure and organization should be avoided. The ideal scenario, it was said, would be for the public to pull up to pumps and have a choice between biodiesel and "dinodiesel." The conference participants also want biodiesel used in city utilities.

The many short-term goals that were discussed included lobbying the National Biodiesel Board, which currently discriminates against small biodiesel producers; working with the Sierra Club, the Green Party, and Greenpeace; facilitating and encouraging school buses to be run on biodiesel (to this end, involvement with Parents, Teachers, and Students Associations would be helpful); and in the more immediate term, children can be educated with presentations. One participant, who has given such presentations, noted that even rowdy kids become transfixed when biodiesel is discussed.

"I thought it was exhilarating and positive to see the work that's been going on," remarked Nicole Cousino of Chula Vista, a participant who co-produced the 1994 film Fat of the Land. "There's a lot of smart people that are actively engaged in trying to ensure the viability of small-scale biodiesel use, production, and distribution. Those that are really committed to this are really well-read and familiar with quality issues, emissions, EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] regulations, and so forth."

She continued: "A lot of the debate was: 'Is it better to work alone, or is it better to work as a group? In my own opinion, it seems like it would be important to have some kind of association [with] members that were working on trying to ensure access to better quality control testing, that were developing relationships with the EPA, and that I could participate within that as a small-scale producer without having to do all of that work on my own."

Devin O'Keane, a biodiesel producer, consumer, and advocate from Chico, California, remarked: "I thought it was really exciting that we got to meet people from around the country who are doing the same kinds of things that we're doing here. It was an excellent networking session, where everyone got to place the names with the faces. We had been communicating with each other for some time, but we never met. . . . I thought it was a really solid introduction to the movement. We're starting to see the formation of a legitimate organization."

"I learned quite a bit more about the emissions," said Ian Miller of San Diego, who runs the Socal Biodiesel Group (see http://auto.groups.yahoo.com/group/socalbiodiesel or search "socalbiodiesel" at Yahoo Groups), "especially as it compares to some of the other so-called alternative fuels like natural gas. I learned a lot about the EPA guidelines and a lot of the certifications."

Members of the media were present, but Nicole Cousino is concerned that too much attention could be placed on one project, a biodiesel Hummer. "To me [the biodiesel Hummer] suggests: 'We can have our cake and eat it, too. We can still be these gross consumers, but kind of calm our guilt by using biodiesel.' How much friggin' biodiesel is it going to take to run one of those things, and why the hell are people driving them anyway? How much labor and energy goes into producing one of those things? This is just what I think personally."

She added: "Ninety-nine percent of the people [who were] at the conference are really about doing local production because [they're] using resources from their local community; because they're not paying for a lot of transportation fees or use of energy to transport fuel, it stays local; and they have a close connection with their customer base: their community. So it really works in this more holistic fashion, which is great. [Biodiesel activists] really are backing up what it means to do sustainable energy."

During the conference, an inaugural meeting for newly-formed council was planned for Northern California on March 14. Albeit, the community's attention has since shifted to a new regulation that will severely restrict biodiesel use in California. "There's an organization called ASTM (American Society of Testing and Measurement)," said Kalib Kersh, a biodiesel educator. "It's largely made up of scientists and engineers who decide what the specifications for different things are, including what is diesel and what is biodiesel. When ASTM made the specification for biodiesel as fuel, for whatever reasons, they called it a 'blend stock.' Now, California Weights and Measures, heeding the recommendations of Chevron and the Western States Petroleum Association, and ignoring comments of the National Biodiesel Board and many, many users of 100% biodiesel in their vehicles, are saying that the engine manufacturers and Chevron don't agree that 100% biodiesel should be used as a fuel because they claim the engines aren't designed for it, which is simply untrue. There's tons of evidence that shows that biodiesel is a better fuel, too. It's lower in all categories of emissions except for NOx. That makes it a much greener, healthier fuel in terms of emissions, even relative to a so-called 'green' fuel like CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). As far as lubricity, biodiesel is much better than diesel for engines."

At the time of this writing, there was no clear consensus for what the public can do to help this situation. However, the subject is being discussed at: BioDieselNow Forums (forums.biodieselnow.com/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=2110(. Also, please watch this site for future announcements.

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