Will CNN's biofuel adventure help or hurt biodiesel?

By Kris Bevill | July 14, 2008
Web exclusive posted August 5, 2008 at 1:39 p.m. CST

Twenty-four-hour news network CNN certainly didn't reinvent the wheel when it launched its two-week biofuel series, "Cody's Big Biofuel Adventure," on July 28. The concept is this: network producer Cody McCloy and a sidekick are traveling from San Francisco to Atlanta, using biodiesel to fuel their vehicle. Along the way, they are expected to report from various biodiesel production facilities and other points of interest.

Sound familiar? While the trip shares some similarities with film maker/biodiesel activist Josh Tickell's cross-country Veggie Van voyage in 1997 and the Big Green Bus biodiesel journey being undertaken by 12 Dartmouth College students this summer, there are also some striking differences. Both the Veggie Van and the Big Green Bus tours were created for the purpose of spreading biodiesel awareness and education. Both vehicles were filled with a mixture of college students and biodiesel activists who decided to dedicate all or a portion of their lives to what they believe is a noble cause � spreading alternative fuel awareness. McCloy, on the other hand, is driving an old diesel-fueled 1978 International Harvester Scout, which he fills with what he calls "biofuel" at locations suggested by viewers.

McCloy's first stop was at Solazyme Inc. in San Francisco. Company President and Chief Technology Officer Harrison Dillon spoke with McCloy about his company and its work to produce biodiesel from microalgae. He even supplied some of Solazyme's biodiesel for McCloy's vehicle. However, rather than focus on the advancements made in biodiesel production, most of McCloy's segment consisted of him proudly showing off the Scout he had purchased on the internet for the trip. After highlighting the many features of the vehicle that no longer work, including the gas gauge, he then pointed to a battery booster and extra fuel filters kept in the back of the vehicle, just in case he said "we happen to clog up anything with the biofuel." McCloy is traveling with two five-gallon containers filled with spare "biofuel" in case he happens to run out in the middle of nowhere.

Dillon told Biodiesel Magazine that he felt CNN's coverage was a positive event and "any media that raises awareness of alternative fuels is positive for the industry and the planet. We think that CNN deserves credit for taking a different approach to the alternative energy and fuel story," he said. "The producer and reporter who worked with us in setting up an interview at Solazyme headquarters delved into the science behind our technology and, in fact, they filmed a tour of our labs and asked thoughtful serious questions about the next generation space and the future. We know that CNN will continue to cover the industry in other more traditional, in-depth ways in the future. This piece seems like a 'fun' summer road trip story with an alternative fuel spin to it."

National Biodiesel Board spokeswoman Amber Thurlo Pearson said that so far, "there were some inaccuracies that we have helped them clear up." McCloy had referred to biodiesel as a "gasoline alternative" but has since corrected his mistake. While media tours like this are good for raising awareness, the NBB is concerned that because McCloy is driving a 30-year-old vehicle he may experience mechanical difficulties that have nothing to do with fuel choice.

McCloy had reported that it was difficult to find fueling stations. Pearson said the NBB has since provided him with fueling locations on his trip from San Francisco to Atlanta. "The route presents challenges for finding biodiesel, but we're doing what we can to help him," Pearson said. The NBB has also requested a link for its Web site be posted on CNN's Web site, but Pearson said the network has yet to do that.

McCloy is expected to report daily on CNN.com during his two week journey as he travels from the West Coast to CNN headquarters in Atlanta.
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