Spring Training

More than 500 people attended the first annual National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Palm Springs, Calif., Feb. 1-4. America's biodiesel event has arrived.
By Tom Bryan | March 01, 2004
"Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive," and Neil Young wails, "Keep on rockin' in the free world."

The legendary rocker and ardent biodiesel supporter didn't perform live, but his famous ballad roused a crowd of 500-plus at the inaugural National Biodiesel Conferecne & Expo at the Wyndahm Palm Springs Hotel in Palm Springs, Calif., Feb. 1-4.

Joe Jobe, executive director of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), hailed the enthusiastic crowd and praised Young and other musicians, such as conference performer Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, for using biodiesel.

"[Young's] got a heart of gold," Jobe quipped in good humor, before mentioning that the rocker's recently launched tour will rely almost entirely on B20-powered trucks and buses. Moreover, West Central Soy, one of 10 conference sponsors, is supplying biodiesel for the tour.

After acknowledging attendees from all over the world, Jobe said, "It's humbling to see the sort of talent and expertise the real pioneers of the biodiesel industry that are here today."

After Jobe's opening remarks, Bob Metz, South Dakota farmer and NBB chairman, took center stage. Metz explained the NBB's decision to ramp up its former technical training workshop to a full-fledged international conference.

"More and more people with non-technical backgrounds were showing interest in biodiesel," he said. "We created this expanded conference to meet the needs of all biodiesel stakeholders."

The chairman joked, "If I'd had it my way, we'd have had [the conference] in Fargo, North Dakota [where it was 34 degrees below zero the day before the event began]."

Krysta Harden, who recently stepped down from her longtime position at a Washington, D.C.-based firm as the lead lobbyist for the American Soybean Association, presented an update on the status of federal energy legislation in Congress.

Ethanol lobbyist gives keynoteBob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the nation's top ethanol lobbying group, gave the keynote address, presenting a speech entitled "Renewable Fuels: Lessons from the Successes and Challenges of the Ethanol Experience." In his robust style, Dinneen shared biodiesel-relevant insights from his 20 years of experience in the ethanol industry.

"Some people like to think of the ethanol industry as the biodiesel industry's big brother," Dinneen said. "And I could give you some brotherly advice about what we've done right and what we've done wrong."

A politically savvy Dinneen told the biodiesel industry, "You need to know your own game. You need to know your fuel. You need to know everything about it."

"Knowing the fuel," even its seemingly insignificant attributes, Dinneen said, will help the biodiesel industry be ready for niche market opportunities that will inevitably come its way. Dinneen also urged biodiesel producers to work with-not against-the petroleum industry.

"For the first 15 years I was in the ethanol industry, I would wake up every morning and try to think of a way to vilify the oil industry. And frankly they would do the same to us," he said. "Finally, a few years ago, we sat down together and formed a powerful coalition of refiners, agricultural interests and environmentalists. [Those talks led to an agreement that] gave refiners flexibility to meet clean air requirements and gave us the reassurance we needed to [build production capacity]."

The path to political success with biofuels, Dinneen said, begins with a vision that sees beyond the agricultural base.

"You will always have a partner in agriculture, but you need to expand on that base," he said. "Work with consumers, work with environmentalists, work with the oil companies."

The ethanol lobbyist closed with a sort of challenge to the biodiesel industry, saying, "Be willing to take a risk. You won't win unless you are willing to swing for the fences once in a while. Stay focused. Don't be discouraged by political setbacks and play tough."

Hannah and the 'Guru of Grassoline'Conference attendees received an entertaining appearance by movie star Daryl Hannah, perhaps known for her environmental activism as much as her presence on the silver screen.

Hannah, who arrived at the conference in a diesel-powered 1970s-style Chevy El Camino, performed with her "biodiesel buddy" Charris Ford, a fellow Colorado resident who is the self proclaimed "Guru of Grassoline"-a.k.a., the "Granola Iyatolla of Canola."

After Ford broke into a humorous-albeit impressive-rap about biodiesel, Hannah expressed her satisfaction in seeing so many people gathered in one place to discuss the alternative fuel.

"It's such a relief to be around people who actually know what biodiesel is," she said. "Most people are like, 'What, are you kidding me? What kind of new fangled cars run on this stuff? How many French fries had to die?"

Hannah's tone was at times reverent, such as when she mentioned that increased biodiesel production could help America kick its dependence on foreign oil. "Maybe it could actually save a few kids from going off to overseas wars," she said.

The Guru of Grassoline also had moments of profundity.
"There is no underestimating the sheer magnitude of the collective brain power of the people that are here in this room today," he told the crowd halfway through the duo's appearance, just minutes before both of the entertainers drank what appeared to be you guessed it, biodiesel.

Hannah departed with simple words of wisdom, "We have the technology to reduce greenhouse gases and grow much of our own fuel. We have the technology to make sure that no child has to go to school breathing dangerous toxins. We have the technology now-and it's biodiesel."

Keeping an 'Eye on Biodiesel'Hannah and the RFA, along with a National Park fleet manager, and a federal agency took home awards from the NBB's first annual "Eye on Biodiesel" awards ceremony.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) won an award for "Impact." The award was given to the agency for championing biodiesel development and use for more than a decade.

Kent Bullard, fleet manager at Channel Islands National Park, near Los Angeles, accepted the NBB's "Inspiration" award for switching the park over to B100 three years ago, helping Channel Islands meet the goal of becoming petroleum free.

"It's important to show leadership-and it's important to walk the walk," Bullard said, noting that he drove to Palm Springs in a B100-powered vehicle.

Dinneen accepted the "Industry Partnership" award on behalf of the RFA, which has worked closely with the NBB over the last decade on the political front.

Dinneen proudly accepted the award, pledging, "This is not so much about what we've done, but what we are going to do. We will continue this very strong and effective partnership."

Hannah returned to the stage to pick up the "Influencer" award. She couldn't help herself from saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy."

Finally, with genuine emotion, the departing Harden poignantly accepted the NBB's "Outstanding Service" award for what Jobe called "many years in Washington working tirelessly for biodiesel."

Yellowstone to MontrealBreakout sessions were run in four concurrent tracts, enabling conference organizers to create an impressively diverse and well-rounded conference that represented nearly every major facet of the emerging industry.

Among the first round of breakout sessions, "Biodiesel Fleet Experience" and "Fuel Property Improvement: Cold Flow and Stability," drew packed rooms.

Jim Evanoff of Yellowstone National Park kicked off "Biodiesel Fleet Experience" with an interesting overview of the Park's move toward sustainable, clean energy. Evanhoff helped introduce biodiesel into park vehicles, running a Dodge pickup on B100, and using fuel (rapeseed and mustard seed feedstock) donated by the University of Idaho. Evanhoff installed a 300-gallon fuel tank in the bed of the pickup and once drove 6,000 miles-from Yellowstone to Nashville, Tenn.-without filling up.

Today, biodiesel is being used in several vehicles in the Park. After two and half years, they have expanded to an entire fleet of B20- and B100-powered vehicles, as well as stationary power units.

Greg Zilberfarb of ASG Renaissance, a leading automotive and alternative fuel industry consulting firm, discussed his company's involvement in the "National Biodiesel Game Plan," a concerted effort to gain recognition and statements of support for biodiesel from both light-duty vehicle and heavy-duty vehicle engine manufacturers.

"It is our mission to get OEMs-primarily the Big Three-to come out with positive statements on B20," he explained.

Claude Borgault of biodiesel producer Rothsay presented an overview of the success of Montreal's BIOBUS program, which was launched in 2002 and lasted 12 months. Borgault said the project was especially important because there was very little data on recycled cooking oils and animal fats, which were both used in the study. The program, which involved 155 buses, was relatively large in scale-the largest such study in North America, by Borgault's assessment.

In the cold flow session, Stew Porter of Suncor Energy Products Inc. provided a detailed background on cold flow and crystallization. Porter walked attendees through a variety of "crystal morphology."

"Crystal size and shape is dependent on fuel composition, even among the same feedstocks," he said.

Along with the other panelists, Porter discussed topics such as biodiesel "cloud points" (the point where the fuel first begins to crystallize) and cooling rates. The crystallization patterns of certain forms of biodiesel and biodiesel blends has the experts somewhat perplexed.

"There are a lot of interrelationships that are unknown," Porter said. "The variation among feedstocks makes one wonder if the variation is more dependent on the production process than the feedstock, or a combination of the two."

New possibilities for coproducts
Another fascinating breakout session, "Industrial Coproducts: New Uses for Glycerin and Other Products," provided a valuable overview of groundbreaking new coproduct research and development.

Speaker M.G. John Havens of the University of Missouri-Rolla spoke about innovative applications of methyl soyate as a military "obscurant" and an agent to kill microorganisms. Havens is testing methyl soyates as a non-volatile solvent for polystyrene, while also looking at using the polystyrene-methyl soyate mixture as a wood preservative.

Speaker Bernard Tao of Purdue University spoke about his efforts to develop a special formulation of glycerin as an aircraft deicing and anti-icing agent. Currently the airlines use propylene and ethylene glycol products for aircraft deicing. Propylene glycol can be a problem because it is toxic to animals, Tao explained.

Tao's tests indicate that various formulations of modified glycerin can be created to have physical characteristics very similar to commercially available glycol products. "We can hit this market very nicely using glycerin from biodiesel production," Tao said. "These [glycerin-based deicers and anti-icers] can be extremely effective."

In addition, Tao said his research team believes that fractionated biodiesel could be mixed with jet fuel in substantial quantities and meet the lower temperature requirements of the high-altitude flying of commercial aircraft. However, he said, the FAA will require years of stringent testing.

'Fields of Fuel' raises eyebrows
USDA Secretary Anne Veneman delivered a taped address during the general session on the second day of regular meetings. Veneman said biodiesel is important to both the USDA and the Bush Administration.

Additional presentations included Bob McCormick of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Don Erbach of the USDA and Shelly Launey, executive director of the DOE's National Clean Cities program.

"Our new goal is to displace petroleum with a greater portfolio of renewable fuels that includes biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas and hybrid vehicles," Launey said. "It gives us further reach."

Perhaps one of the most popular speakers of the event was filmmaker Joshua Tickell of the Veggie Van Organization. Hard to label, Tickell is a passionate advocate of biodiesel who has authored and published books on the subject and helped promote the fuel worldwide since the mid-1990s. He has produced a short film that's been accepted by 15 international film festivals and he is currently working on a full-length feature documentary about biodiesel. The film is called "Fields of Fuel," and Tickell showed a short clip of the documentary at the conference.

The inspiring trailer instigated cheers and loud applause that rang out the minute the preview ended. Tickell said the film will be picked up by the Discovery Channel and broadcast to 227 million viewers in 50 countries.

"In short, it's the biggest commercial for biodiesel ever," he said, adding that he hopes to raise about $250,000-largely from the biodiesel industry-to help fund production.

Quality programs introduced The second day of breakouts were as informative and diverse as the first, offering discussions that ranged from biodiesel heating applications to engine testing and research.

A particularly timely session, "BQ-9000: What is it and How Can it Help Us Sell Biodiesel?," provided a crash course on the NBB's "BQ-9000" industry quality program, along with a brief synopsis of a parallel program called "BioDiesel Driven," being proposed by Canada's Topia Energy.

Steve Howell, industry consultant and NBB technical chair, provided a review of BQ-9000 and fielded questions from an inquisitive audience.

"BQ-9000 is a company certification program-not a certification for the fuel itself, but certification for the companies that buy bulk fuel," Howell said, explaining that the program assures that biodiesel meets ASTM D6751 and other important quality parameters.

"There is no such thing as 'BQ-9000 biodiesel.' There are 'BQ-9000 companies,'" Howell reiterated. "[The program] does not certify the fuel, but it does help the fuel because the biodiesel produced and sold by a company that meets this program will meet specifications."

Specifically, the program establishes "Accredited Producers" and "Certified Marketers." After paying the appropriate fees, a company can qualify as a BQ-9000 Certified Marketer in two ways: (1) buying a fuel from a BQ-9000 Accredited Producer, or (2) buying fuel from a non-accredited producer and independently making sure the fuel meets BQ-9000 specifications.

While the program encourages both producers and marketers to become accredited and certified, Howell said it is a totally voluntary program.

"This is not a mandatory program at all," he said. "I want to make sure that I drive that point home. It's been created for companies that want to go above and beyond the call of duty and it may be more than some companies want to take on.

Govindh Jayarman, president of Topia Energy, had little time to speak about BioDiesel Driven, but said the program was created concurrent to BQ-9000. Both Jayarman and Howell said they were unaware of each other's parallel efforts until recent months.

According to Jayarman, BioDiesel Driven producers must subject their product to rigorous and consistent long-term testing. ,

More information about the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo is available online at www.biodiesel.org.
 
 
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