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More biodiesel coming to area

Thu., Dec. 13, 2007

At least 22 new biodiesel pumps are slated to open around the Inland Northwest in coming months through a partnership between a Colorado biodiesel company and a Lewiston-based fuel distributor, company representatives said Wednesday.

Westminster, Colo.-headquartered Blue Sun Biodiesel LLC plans to supply B20-grade biodiesel to Coleman Oil Co. Inc., which is working to revamp cardlock pumps in Eastern Washington and North Idaho to supply retail customers, including Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint. Although the companies don’t have specific contracts for locations in Spokane, Blue Sun envisions having pumps there by spring, said Randy Rutherford, Blue Sun’s regional manager.

The pumps would be among the public’s first options locally for buying biodiesel, which runs more efficiently in engines and reduces emissions, advocates asserted. The companies hope to overcome skepticism from retailers and consumers, providing a quality product that performs in cold weather.

“This is actually pretty exciting news, because if we can get pumps open to the public so that it’s readily available for everyone to use, I think that’s going to make the biggest difference,” said John Poffenroth, a biodiesel user and diesel emissions reduction specialist for the state Department of Ecology. “A good quality alternative fuel available to the public has great benefit for everyone.”

The companies have opened pumps in Lewiston and Wenatchee, and plan pumps in Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.

Biodiesel for on-road driving cost about $3.70 a gallon on Wednesday at a Blue Sun pump in Wenatchee, said Vince Konynenbelt, Coleman’s director of business development. Regular diesel averaged $3.44 on the West Coast on Monday, according to federal statistics.

Bringing biodiesel to the area has stalled because of infrastructure challenges, said Jim Armstrong of the Spokane County Conservation District.

“We are sort of held captive,” Armstrong said. “We’re an isolated market, and really a market that’s been unestablished, largely because it’s been unavailable.

“The trains full of biodiesel come through Spokane and keep right on going to Seattle.”

To overcome those obstacles, Blue Sun would ship B20, a fuel mixture that contains 20 percent soy-based biodiesel, by train to a recently completed Coleman plant in Lewiston. Coleman would blend the fuel, store it and ship it via truck to cardlock locations.

Those locations mostly are unmanned and require a bank card or Coleman fuel card to fill up, Rutherford said.

Schweitzer Mountain Ski Operations LLC plans to use Blue Sun biodiesel in its bus fleet as soon as possible, part of an effort to be “environmentally sensitive,” said Tom Chasse, president and CEO. If the fuel holds up in cold weather, the resort could convert more buses, and possibly its road-maintenance or grooming equipment, he said.

“We’ve been trying for a while, but procurement has been very difficult,” he said. “But with them bringing the product up to Sandpoint, it’s allowed us to fulfill one of our goals for this year.”

The Central Valley School District began using biodiesel year-round in 2003 in school buses.

Poffenroth said he hopes more schools adopt biodiesel when their contracts come up for bid.

Untreated biodiesel can congeal in cold weather when regular diesel would not, but Konynenbelt said Blue Sun Fusion has additives to prevent formation of ice crystals. Colorado ski resorts above 12,000 feet have used the fuel year-round with “great results,” Rutherford said.

“Starting here in the Inland Northwest is a good starting ground to prove our cold-weather operability and performance that is inherent to our fuel and mushroom out from there to the Western side of the state,” Rutherford said.

Six-year-old Blue Sun, expected to become publicly traded on the Nasdaq in coming months, is focusing on national expansion and has received more than $20 million in private investment over the last year, Rutherford said. Blue Sun, partly owned by agricultural cooperatives that produce seed oils, is building a biodiesel production plant in New Mexico and plans a seed-crushing plant in Oklahoma, he said.

Its Clovis, N.M., plant could be online early next year and produce about 15 million gallons a year, according to news reports.

The company sells biodiesel in several states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico.

Blue Sun guarantees it will replace or repair manufacturer-warranted fuel system materials if proven to be the cause of the damage, the company says.

Coleman may even look to sell the fuel to other distributors, traditionally competitors, Konynenbelt said.

“We went to higher cost (fuel), but we can guarantee product performance to our customers,” Konynenbelt said. “We’re very committed to making it work. Coleman oil spent a significant amount of money to put that blender in Lewiston.”

The Pacific Pride cardlock at 18826 E. Appleway Ave. in Greenacres has stocked B20 biodiesel for a couple years, but it primarily serves Central Valley buses, said Roger Schmechel, commercial sales manager for distributor City Service Valcon. “We haven’t seen much demand from the general public for it,” Schmechel said, citing price differences in biodiesel blends and infrastructure costs.

Pure biodiesel also is available from Whitley Fuel LLC in large containers, Armstrong said.

By focusing on proper storage, mixing and distribution, Blue Sun can avoid pitfalls that have befallen biodiesel companies that have jumped into producing, Rutherford contended.

The conservation district had looked at biodiesel as a way to provide an alternative crop for local farmers, Armstrong said.

“Unfortunately, the economics have not penciled out,” he said. “Petroleum stayed low until just this last year. As the commodity prices have increased, then getting the farmers to grow a new crop is rather problematic.”

Tags: biodiesel

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