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Biodiesel grows as a renewable energy source
Betting on Biodiesel

Denton, Texas, and Willie Nelson have something in common. They're both in the business of selling biodiesel--an alternative fuel that pollutes the air less than regular diesel fuel and can be made from renewable resources, such as vegetable oils or animal fats.

The city of Denton and Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Biodiesel Industries have joined to build a biodiesel manufacturing plant at Denton's landfill, the first plant sponsored by a Texas city, according to Jake Stewart, a project development analyst for Biodiesel Industries.

Made in America
"Biodiesel is American made; in this case right here in Texas," said Stewart. "Every dollar spent on biodiesel is one less dollar spent on imported petroleum fuel."

Denton is spending about $700,000 on the plant, according to Vance Kemler, director of solid waste management in Denton.

"We own the equipment, and the plant will be on city-owned land," said Kemler. "Biodiesel Industries will lease the equipment and site and operate the plant and share in the profits."

The plant, scheduled to be up and running in early 2005, will capture methane gas from the landfill and will use it to power the plant. The process will take waste, vegetable-based cooking oil from Dallas-area restaurants and turn it into biodiesel.

Area restaurants produce about 12 million gallons of recyclable cooking oil annually, Kemler said. The city anticipates using 1 to 3 million gallons of that oil annually to produce about the same amount of biodiesel. The city will use some of the biodiesel to run its own diesel-powered vehicles and equipment, including trucks and buses, and sell the excess. Other cities and counties already have expressed their willingness to purchase biodiesel from Denton.

"Nobody in the community has opposed this project," Kemler said. "Everybody believes it will improve the environment of our community."

The city also plans to build a pump where the public can buy biodiesel, but the city has not yet chosen a site, said Kemler.

At the pump
Texas already has a few biodiesel retailers where the public can buy the alternative fuel. As of January 2005, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts identified retailers in at least six Texas cities selling biodiesel for public consumption: Austin, Hillsboro, Keller, Addison, Fort Worth and Texas City.

Biodiesel in its pure form contains no petroleum, but it can be mixed with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend fuel. The most popular biodiesel blend is B20, which is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum. B20 maximizes emissions reduction while minimizing the higher cost of biodiesel, according to Stewart. B20 sells for an average of about 20 cents more per gallon than regular diesel.

"While biodiesel costs more, it is the cheapest of all the alternative fuel options, because it doesn't require infrastructure changes or mechanical modifications, like others such as natural gas would," said Stewart.

Diesel engines require few or no modifications to use biodiesel.

Furthermore, Stewart said a new tax incentive passed by the U.S Congress should help eradicate the cost difference.

Country music legend Willie Nelson is actively promoting biodiesel as a way to help American farmers.

Roughly 90 to 95 percent of the biodiesel fuel consumed in the United States is based on soybean oil, according to Richard Nelson, an engineering professor at Kansas State University. Biodiesel, therefore, offers American farmers an additional market and higher prices for their soybean crop, the professor said.

"Biodiesel is a way to put farmers back on the land raising fuel for America and the rest of the world without war," Willie Nelson said.

The singer uses biodiesel in his own trucks and buses and is marketing his own brand of biodiesel, Willie Nelson's Biodiesel, at Carl's Corner truck stop, north of Hillsboro, Texas.

Pam Wagner