An Eastern View of Biodiesel

The Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show moves to the eastern side of the United States after last year's successful Western Region conference. The 2005 event in Atlanta promises to highlight the vast possibilities and benefits of renewable fuels, and aims to answer questions consumers may have about biodiesel.
By Jessica Williams | August 01, 2005
East of the Mississippi River, biodiesel production is growing. More than 10 facilities are making the renewable fuel, while 18 plants are in the planning stages. Biodiesel use is strong too, judging from more than 200 biodiesel retail facilities spread across the eastern United States, offering B2, B5, B20 and B100.

With all the positive industry growth, however, consumers still have many questions about biodiesel. Why does it cost more? What is the optimal blend? Can it be used in cold temperatures?

Rapid industry growth coupled with a need for greater consumer education make this part of the country ideal for the second annual Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show. Held last year on the West Coast, this year's Eastern Region conference will take place at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta downtown hotel Oct. 10-12. Themed "Building an Industry," the conference will include general sessions, breakout sessions and networking receptions, along with a trade show. At last year's event in Sacramento, Calif., more than 400 people attended, including 51 speakers and 44 exhibitors. This year, more than 400 attendees are again expected along with nearly 50 exhibitors.

Correcting misconceptions
Opinions of biodiesel differ depending on what part of the country you live. In Rome, Ga., approximately 70 miles northwest of Atlanta, SoyMet Biofuels has been producing soybean-based biodiesel for the past two years. Rick Sargent, chairman of the company's board of directors, said biodiesel use is so new in the southeast that it's hard to tell what consumers think of the fuel, but early indications are good. "People are willing to be more accepting to alternate ideas," Sargent told Biodiesel Magazine. "[We're] getting a good response and general interest."

SoyMet is currently upping production by adding a reactor and opening another plant, according to Sargent. He said consumers most commonly ask questions about biodiesel's performance, cost, benefits and advantages, and whether the fuel would harm or impair machinery. "It's a matter of getting some trial [use] from some customers, which will pave the road for biodiesel [acceptance] through word-of-mouth because of its performance."

Near Virginia Biodiesel Refinery in New Kent, owner Doug Faulkner said only first-time users have questions, while those who have used biodiesel at least once in the past are satisfied with its performance. "Anybody that uses it loves it, but they tell somebody else that's not using it and they're going to have questions," Faulkner said. "It's part of any new industry."

Further north, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the state's only biodiesel producer, Environmental Alternatives, has the capacity to produce 5 mmgy of the renewable fuel. Director Bob Lindenbaum told Biodiesel Magazine that he feels consumers don't have an accurate understanding or acceptance of biodiesel. He said consumers are hesitant to buy biodiesel when regular diesel fuel is less expensive. "[Others] who think they understand the tax incentives don't understand why you have to blend it [to receive the credit]," Lindenbaum said. "The private sector is nervous about using it in their fleets."

Philadelphia Fry-o-Diesel in Pennsylvania is planning to build a pilot-scale plant that turns trap grease to biodiesel. Business Development Associate Emily Bockian Landsburg told Biodiesel Magazine that fleet managers are concerned about warranty, infrastructure and availability issues, among other things. "[Availability] will be relieved as we build the market and the infrastructure," Bockian Lansburg said. "We also get a lot of inquiries into how end-users or filling stations can receive grant money to subsidize the costs. The funding that is out there now is really helping to drive the market."

In Massachusetts, Northeast Biodiesel LLC plans to build a 10 mmgy facility that turns waste vegetable grease to biodiesel. Spokeswoman Lynn Benander said locals have had several questions about biodiesel, especially after Cornell Professor David Pimentel released information in mid-July that said the ethanol production process uses more energy than it produces. "When that hit the papers, people had a lot of questions for us, wondering if the same was true for biodiesel," Benander said. "But we're making biodiesel from recycled vegetable oil so we estimate 5.4 units of energy created for every one unit of energy used." The energy return from biodiesel made with soybean oil is 3.2 units, according to an NREL study.

Benander said consumers often confuse waste grease with biodiesel. They think they have to modify their engines to use biodiesel and are surprised to hear it can be mixed with diesel. "They also have questions about pricing," Benander told Biodiesel Magazine. "People want to have their energy source fairly priced. "

Conferences like the Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show can help answer the questions that consumers, future producers and even current producers may have. "Anything that puts [biodiesel] in the public's eye helps," Lindenbaum said.
Benander said organizations like the National Biodiesel Board are also instrumental in spreading education about biodiesel. "It's one of the vehicles," Benander said. "They have an important role."

Addressing the issues
The Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show, organized by BBI International, offers several informative presentations and ample networking opportunities. The event kicks off with the trade show's grand opening, where various vendors will have their products, services and the latest biofuels technology on display.

General session topics include a national overview of biodiesel, an update on federal government programs that support biofuels and a concentrated look at biofuels in the eastern region. Breakout sessions will feature presentations about biodiesel production, emerging technologies and biodiesel products. The conference wraps up with a round robin discussion about what is needed to foster biofuels industries in the eastern region, and a review of state or regional biofuels incentives. At the end, recommendations from the round robin discussions will be reported to biofuels policy makers in order to foster growth in the industry.

General registration for the Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show is $495. The fee includes admission to all general sessions, breakout sessions, the trade show, meal functions and a copy of conference proceedings on CD. Government officials can register at the reduced rate of $395. For registration, sponsorship opportunities and exhibitor information, visit, or contact BBI International at (719) 539-0300 or [email protected].

Jessica Williams is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]
or by phone at (701) 746-8385.
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