By Ron Kotrba | July 31, 2014

While major improvements have been made to physical movement, storage and availability of biodiesel over the past several years, there seems no escaping the risk unstable government policies poses to future investment. I would like to thank Steven J. Levy, managing director of Sprague Operating Resources LLC and chairman of the National Biodiesel Board, for sharing his personal thoughts with me on the state of the U.S. biodiesel distribution system as a whole, specifically on improvements, challenges and opportunities.

Come to find out, not only is it difficult to make biodiesel more available at a lower price through “the system,” but it’s also tricky to write about. And much easier said than done is getting big companies—such as the largest U.S. producing company that manages a sizable distribution business, major pipeline and terminal operators, and others—to talk about it on the record. For example, one executive for a small company that ended up not participating in a featured article on this subject gave me the number to an attorney, to get it cleared through his legal department before speaking with me. That is fine, except the attorney never returned my voicemails.

It is clear there is a level of discomfort associated with exposing weaknesses in a system, placing blame for those weaknesses, and then having to play nice in the sandbox with those you blame. For a professional in this business to throw petroleum companies who block growth but through whom biodiesel can be supplied, or OEMs that ultimately support increased use, or terminal operators that do not pass the savings along to the distributor and consumer, under the bus, or call ASTM processes cumbersome or inhibitory when it’s clear they have done so much good for quality and acceptance, this would not serve anyone well. I can appreciate taking the high road on this.

I would like to give a special thanks to the people and companies that participated in our distribution-themed issue, including Sprague, Amerigreen and Targray executives for our featured article on page 20, “US Biodiesel Supply Kings.” NBB petroleum liaison Paul Nazzaro gives us “Protecting Storage Tanks From the Unknown” on page 7. Justin Heller, CEO of Akash Energy in Houston, writes “Building the New Energy Economy” on page 32. Considering how future investment is affected by policy uncertainty, Mark M. Palmer, president and CEO of the Palmer Policy Group, contributes “Tax Extenders: A Harbinger for Tax Reform?” on page 6. And learn about the personal side of running a small biodiesel plant from majority-owner of Winnsboro, S.C.-based Midlands Biofuels, “Bio” Beth Renwick, and her husband and co-owner “Bio” Joe, in “A Biodiesel Family Affair” on page 26.

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