A Lewiston-based petroleum company will soon begin selling biodiesel at its gas stations scattered across the Inland Northwest. Coleman Oil Co.’s president, Bob Coleman, said a recent $100,000 grant from the state of Idaho will help pay for the infrastructure needed to blend and distribute the plant-based diesel fuel.
“We feel the time is right to get involved and make it available,” Coleman said. “The grant certainly nudged us along.”
Coleman Oil has two cardlock fueling facilities in Coeur d’Alene and one in Post Falls. It’s part of the CFN network, which has about two dozen fueling locations across the region, including in Sandpoint and the Washington communities of Sprague and Dayton. Eventually, the company plans to sell biodiesel blends at pumps across Eastern Washington and into Idaho’s Silver Valley.
The company expects to begin distributing biodiesel in September, Coleman said. The fuel will be petroleum diesel blended with either 2 percent or 5 percent biodiesel.
Currently, the only station in the region selling the fuel is the Pacific Pride cardlock station at 18826 E. Appleway in Spokane Valley. Washington lawmakers recently passed a law that 2 percent of all diesel sold in the state by 2008 be biodiesel.
The high price of fossil fuel oil is one factor in the decision to begin distributing biodiesel in coming months, Coleman said. The price of canola- and soybean-based oils is expected to drop as production increases, he added. Another factor is the national switch to low-sulfur diesel. Biodiesel offers some of the same engine lubrication qualities that will be lost when sulfur is removed from petroleum diesel, Coleman said.
Soot from sulfur in diesel is believed to cause cancer and aggravate breathing conditions, such as asthma, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A new federal law that takes effect June 1 and will be phased in over the summer requires a dramatic reduction in sulfur. Retail pumps will be required to make the switch by Sept. 1. The switch is expected to prevent 8,300 premature deaths each year, according to the EPA.
Because of the changes, trucking companies and large agricultural consumers of diesel have expressed interest in using biodiesel, Coleman said. “In time, we see a real possibility the majority of diesel we sell will be requested as a biodiesel blend. … You can support the local economy with it and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. I think everybody’s interested in that.”
Many diesel vehicles sold in the past two years by General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen and Volvo are factory-approved to run biodiesel blends; new Jeep Liberty vehicles even roll off the assembly line with a 5 percent biodiesel blend in their tanks, according to information from the company.
The grant from the Idaho Department of Water Resources’ energy division will help pay for storage and blending facilities at Coleman Oil’s site in Lewiston. A distributor from Calgary will work with the company to find domestic sources of biodiesel and to perform quality assurance testing.
Several other entrepreneurs in the Inland Northwest are working on biodiesel projects, including a seed-crushing facility in the Spokane area. Coleman said he eventually hopes to purchase the seed oil from local farmers, though few acres have yet been planted with canola.