Leveling the Three-Legged Stool

By Dave Nilles | April 25, 2007
The simple three-legged stool may not be much to look at, but judging by its mention at nearly every major renewable fuels conference in the past few years, its function is certainly popular. The primitive piece of furniture is an analogy, of course, for three entities working together to create a functioning industry. It's a common theme being expressed in regard to renewable fuels such as biodiesel.

The themes comprising this industry's three-legged stool often depend on one's perspective. Several feature articles in this month's issue provide a snapshot of three such items: policy, use and distribution infrastructure. This issue also shows that the length of each leg-and the respective weight it must bear-is leveling out.

Thirty years is a long time to wait for one's goals to become a reality. That's how long it's been since Jimmy Carter took office as president of the United States. As Susanne Retka Schill points out in the article "Groundbreaking with Presidential Proportions," Carter is finally seeing his energy policies begin to take shape. In the late 1970s, Carter said dependence on foreign oil threatened economic independence and national security. He also called for the United States to cut its imports of foreign oil in half. In February, Carter attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a 15 MMgy biodiesel plant slated to be built in his hometown of Plains, Ga. The policies Carter proposed 30 years ago are now being accepted as mainstream, and the biodiesel industry is doing its part in accomplishing those goals. "The development of alternative, environmentally responsible energy sources has been a passion of mine since I became a public servant," Carter said.

Decker Truck Line is proving the effects of biodiesel use in the real world. The Iowa-based company has been comparing B20 and neat petroleum diesel since late 2006 with its Two Million Mile Haul. Read more about it in Bryan Sims' story "Two Million-Mile Road Trip." A similar study is being conducted in Canada to determine the cold weather impact on biodiesel in fleet use. The Alberta Biodiesel Demonstration Project will provide laboratory and on-road long-haul fleet testing data, which may impact the federal government's proposal for a nationwide renewable fuels requirement. The Canadian study provides a fine example of policy influencing biodiesel use. However, those two legs of biodiesel's three-legged stool can only be supported by the actual production and distribution of the fuel.

The questions surrounding biodiesel distribution infrastructure are steadily being answered. As shown in Ron Kotrba's profile on McCall Oil and Chemical, the Pacific Northwest is gearing up for biodiesel production and distribution. The McCall company is setting itself up to become a leading biodiesel distributor in the state by investing capital now, before the industry ramps up production. That increase could be expedited by policy. At press time, the Oregon legislature was considering a statewide fuels standard. If passed, a B2 biodiesel requirement would take effect when instate production reaches 5 MMgy. Once instate production reaches 15 MMgy, the required blend rises to B5.

Of course, the key to holding the biodiesel industry's three-legged stool together is the various cross-beams that allow the legs to support each other. Whether that is trade organizations like the National Biodiesel Board, fuel quality programs like BQ-9000, or information sources like this magazine, the key is to work together to appropriately build this industry. The end result is a sustainable biodiesel industry.

In this case, the marriage of policy, use and distribution infrastructure is giving the biodiesel industry a leg to stand on.

Dave Nilles
Online Editor
[email protected]
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