Editor's Note

Biodiesel wins the popularity contest
By Tom Bryan | March 01, 2005
Within a span of 11 days in early February, I had opportunities to attend both the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo and the National Ethanol Conference: Policy & Marketing. Hitting both events, back-to-back in the same year, clarified in my mind just how similar the U.S. biodiesel industry and the U.S. ethanol industry are. It also magnified the gap between them.

The similarities are obvious-both are clean, domestic renewable fuels that reduce harmful air emissions and decrease the nation's dependence on foreign oil I'd be preaching to the choir if I continued.

Beyond the usual talking points, however, the comparisons become progressively harder to pinpoint. The U.S. ethanol industry produced nearly 3.5 billion gallons of fuel in 2004, while the U.S. biodiesel industry produced less than 30 million gallons. The United States is a gasoline-powered nation. We consume four times more gas than diesel, and the demand for oxygenated fuel has helped make the U.S. ethanol industry larger today than the U.S. biodiesel industry might ever be.

But here's the catch.

merica's 30-mmgy biodiesel industry drew more than 1,000 people to its second annual conference this year, about the same number of people who attended the National Ethanol Conference in its 10th year. In fact, the largest ethanol industry event in the world, the
International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, has never attracted more than 1,500 people (although it is expected to draw nearly 2,000 to Kansas City this July).

Why is attendance at these events disproportionate to the size and status of the industries they represent?

I think it's because biodiesel is simply more fashionable. Ethanol is arguably America's No. 1 renewable fuel, but it simply doesn't have biodiesel's pop-culture appeal. College students aren't forming ethanol clubs. There's no Willie Nelson Ethanol Co.-not yet anyway.
But the industry shouldn't take anything for granted. The industry needs to capitalize on its hip status. Build upon it. Keep the momentum going. Let popularity drive domestic demand-and start looking for really big conference venues. Trust me, the show's not gettin' any smaller.
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