What you should know
By TIMES STAFF WRITER
Published April 1, 2007
Agri-Source Fuels looked at the old Pasco Beverage juice plant, with its giant empty storage tanks, and saw an ideal place to produce biodiesel. There is a growing market for the alternative fuel, although it's a ways from coming to a pump near you.
What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative to petroleum diesel that is produced from fatty raw materials such as soybean oil or rendered chicken fat. Converting these oils into fuel requires removing the glycerin in a process called transesterification.
Is it used as a pure fuel or is it blended with petroleum diesel fuel?
Both. But the blends, such as B20 (a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel fuel), are more commonly used. The proposed plant in Dade City would produce only pure biodiesel, which it would sell to other companies that would blend it.
What's so great about it?
It acts as a natural lubricant, is biodegradable and it releases far fewer pollutants than conventional diesel fuel.
Who can use it?
Pretty much anybody with a diesel engine can use it with little to no engine modification. That includes trucks, tractors, construction equipment and diesel passenger cars.
One caveat for diesel passenger cars, though: Most auto manufacturers' warranties approve the use of only B5, a 5 percent biodiesel blend. The National Biodiesel Board is lobbying those companies to modify their warranty statements to approve the use of up to B20.
How much does it cost?
Nationwide last month, pure biodiesel averaged about $3.31 per gallon. B20 was $2.53.
Pure petroleum diesel fuel during that time was $2.63; regular gasoline averaged $2.30.
Is there a sustainable market for biodiesel?
It is one of the fastest-growing alternative fuels. In 2005, 75-million gallons were sold, compared with only 500,000 in 1999. The trucking industry is seen as one of the biggest potential markets.
But it is not a sure thing yet. Diesel passenger cars represent less than 3 percent of the passenger cars in this country. Advocates also say governments, through tax incentives and fuel mandates for their own fleets, must continue to play a role if biodiesel is to become a viable industry. Most of the existing 105 biodiesel plants do not produce at their full capacity.
How can I find biodiesel?
That's another problem. It's hard to find a gas station that sells it in most parts of the country. You can find a list of retailers on the National Biodiesel Board's Web site, www.nbb.org.
Sources: National Biodiesel Board, U.S. Department of Energy, interviews with biodiesel companies