Out and About for Biodiesel

By Tom Verry | April 26, 2010
Biodiesel is just one of those things. The stories that touch everyone, the jokes that make anyone smile, the people you'd always welcome as company-that's biodiesel.

Regardless of the location or audience, accurate biodiesel news and information is almost always warmly received. People like hearing about good stuff, and biodiesel is good stuff.

Several years back our strategy was to talk to anyone who would listen about biodiesel. I drove "Old Brownie," a 1992 Ford F250 that ran on biodiesel, 330,000 miles to help promote what was then this crazy alternative fuel no one had even heard about. When I first started promoting biodiesel in 1991, it cost more than $6 a gallon when diesel fuel was in the 80 cents per gallon price range. But even then people could see that biodiesel's energy security, economic and environmental benefits would be needed by this country sometime in the future. We promoted biodiesel at county fairs, tractor pulls, and farm shows. I thought I would die in that truck, but I'm still tickin'-and actually, so is Old Brownie, if you can believe it. The Missouri Soybean Association still runs that old truck and tells the story of biodiesel's meager beginnings.

As the nation recognized the benefits of biodiesel, we began to get bigger. The board was organized, and we hit the trade show circuit full speed. Staff and supporters must have racked up a million frequent flyer miles to make sure the biodiesel name and our expo booth was front and center at just about every trade show on the books. We went to truck shows, fleet shows, natural products shows, ag shows, oil shows, government leader shows, mining shows, port shows, engine shows-even a fair and expo show. If biodiesel had a place, we had booth.

More importantly, during that same time, biodiesel itself was racking up the miles, carrying major transport companies and entrepreneurial city fleets the distance, and doing it as well as or better than petroleum.

Now most people we talk to have at least heard about biodiesel. The latest poll shows 86 percent of voters are familiar with biodiesel, up from just 27 percent in 2004.

So today we are more strategic in our outreach. Biodiesel has found its footing as domestic use steadily grows. Fleet managers have recognized that biodiesel really is the simplest way to transition an existing diesel fleet to alternative fuels. Fleets and drivers have heard from others who have had success with the fuel, and they want to know more.

Most of the trade shows and outreach events we now attend or sponsor directly target those who not only want information about biodiesel, but who might be ready to make a decision to use it or are key stakeholders in our industry. We have also maintained a presence at feedstock, equipment, and technical events, often supporting sessions or speakers who talk about biodiesel's impact on various industry sectors. For example, this spring we brought the biodiesel message to the Green Truck Summit with the National Truck Equipment Association, the National Association of Fleet Administrators, Commodity Classic, Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, Mid American Trucking Show, and the Alternate Fleet Vehicle Institute, among others. These events open the door to new contacts and biodiesel opportunities, helping to ensure that biodiesel is a consideration for decision makers and providing an opportunity for industry leaders to ask biodiesel questions first hand.

In addition to our direct outreach, state and non-profit organizations have joined the biodiesel rank and file and also represent the industry at trade shows and events. Over the years we have forged new relationships with groups including American Lung Association chapters, and the U.S. DOE's Clean Cities Coordinator program. Both organizations support biodiesel and other alternatives to petroleum as part of a strategy for cleaner air. Their work extends our outreach potential exponentially and supports our ongoing objectives.

This year, in conjunction with the Renewable Fuels Association, we received a DOE grant that supports even more coordination. The grant has made it possible to reach Clean Cities Coordinators all over the country and offer training to ensure they know the latest information about biodiesel.

In the past decade, our outreach strategy and tactics have adjusted as the biodiesel landscape and member funding priorities have shifted and changed. Through that time we've had the good fortune of having a good story. Biodiesel's strengths continue to grow, research continues to refine what we know about the fuel, and support is stronger than ever. I can only imagine where we'll be 10 or 20 years from now. Who knows? Maybe we'll have a diesel-fuel cell hybrid flying car version of "Old Brownie."

Tom Verry, director of outreach and development, NBB
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