The Good Ol’ Boy of Biodiesel

A 'homebrew' startup thrives in the Florida Keys
By Luke Geiver | August 16, 2011

Jeff Lillie is a commercial fisherman of 37 years in the Florida Keys, a former machinist, and a self-proclaimed good old boy of biodiesel. With a little help from the right person, Lillie's efforts might just be the reason biodiesel in the Keys takes off. Seven years ago, Lillie ditched his day job and put his life savings into biodiesel production. “I’m in this for a solution,” he says, “not to solve our big problems but to solve our little ones.” For a long time now, Lillie, in his late 50s, says he thought biodiesel was always the most promising fuel, and, that by now the entire country would have switched to diesel engines running “bio,” as he calls it. Lillie is more than an idealist though, he’s developed a proven biodiesel production process and hopes biodiesel use in the Florida Keys increases.

His vision started with “bio,” and morphed into a trailer mounted with a processor, just to avoid the hurricane season—and now he has bigger plans for the Keys, and maybe elsewhere. Each week, Lillie serves more than 20 customers who come for his product. He’s currently awaiting ASTM certification on samples he’s provided, but to this point, he hasn’t received a single complaint from his customers who range from commercial fishermen who’ve modified their engines to run his Marathon-produced biodiesel, to fleet users, to folks looking for a few gallons they can trust. “I’ve got a full mason jar on the counter right now that has been out in the sun for 8 months,” he tells Biodiesel Magazine. “I did a test on it just the other day and it came out great.”

Lillie and his wife, who helps out, and an employee, who sleeps at the production site in a trailer provided by Lillie,take the operation seriously. The attorneys who have signed on with Lillie to patent his process and franchise his recipe and production methods for use on a modular trailer are also serious. “We want to get all the restaurants in the Keys on board with us,” Lillie says, adding that he doesn’t care about huge profits at the moment. “I just want to make bio.”

He currently sells his waste vegetable oil-based biodiesel for $3.75 a gallon, regardless of the price of petrodiesel. “I’ve been called an idiot and a lot of other names,” he says of his pricing model. But, since he finalized his process and started marketing Marathon, his customer list has grown significantly. He’s even looking to bring on more lawyers to continue developing the modular trailer system.

—Luke Geiver

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