Biodiesel or Bust!

Chronicling the attempt of the author to form a small Biodiesel cooperative.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Regrettably this blog will have to be put on indefinite hiatus. My business partner ran into personal financial trouble and this project has been put on hold. This was short lived but the business plan has merit, I hope I can resume this project later.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I apologize for the lack in posting of late,(wait who am I apologizing too? I don’t think anyone reads this yet) but I’ve been burning the candle on both ends. I feel like I can’t post fast enough to get up to date. As it is, almost everyday something new seems to pop up in this biodiesel or bust project. I still haven’t talked about the business plan or feasibility quite yet so I think it is about time I do so. So what is our plan of attack? Well first and foremost my business partner and I feel strongly that local production and distribution should be the key to our plans.
Several biodiesel cooperatives buy their biodiesel from large scale commercial outfits and then distribute it to members. This has some problems though. First and foremost it is more expensive than normal diesel. In my area the cost is something like $3.65 for biodiesel compared to $3.20 for normal diesel. It is a fine model if all you want is for you just want to create a way for people to get biodiesel but it would only make sense for environmentally conscious people who would be willing to pay the premium. Right now the plan calls for us to create our own biodiesel from waste oil collected from local restaurants. This has a host of problems and I can understand why many collectives buy biodiesel or use virgin oil that costs more. The first problem is finding oil that is suitable for making biodiesel. While theoretically you could use just about any kind of oil, lower quality oil will make lower quality biodiesel. It also makes the cold weather properties of biodiesel much worse. There’s also the collection of the oil that can be a major problem. Convincing companies to allow us to take away their oil may prove to be a challenge, not to mention that transportation could become a real chore. Just the same we figure that if we use waste oil we can make biodiesel for about $1.00 a gallon not counting labor and transportation costs. This allows us some margin to work in so that we can convince people to buy it who might be otherwise skeptical of the cost.
Selling biodiesel commercially is a bit difficult. To do so we would have to have all our biodiesel tested, a procedure that is costly. So we won’t be selling it to the widespread public for sometime. Instead I think we will use a membership system and attract people that way. I still need to do a lot of research on the regulations many of which come from agencies you wouldn’t expect so our business structure is by no means concrete. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to stumble across some regulation that will just sink the boat completely. Just the same I’m still confident that we’ve found a few quirks we can work to our advantage.
For instance I’m crossing my fingers that I have found a small patch of unused agricultural land just outside of city limits which my friend might let me use. This is fortunate because it will be zoned agricultural which will free up my hand a bit on what sort of regulations will be imposed on me and it being outside of city limits helps because otherwise I would not have been able to bring more than 5 gallons of methanol into city limits. A problem if I wanted to make much biodiesel at all.
This post is meandering so let me sum up what my plan is. First we will talk to restaurants about taking away their oil for little or free. We will use that oil to create biodiesel which we sell to a select group of members at first. Eventually hopefully we can afford testing and sell it in a more widespread way or we’ll be able to expand our membership to heavy users like farmers. I have more to post but it will wait.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Well I suppose it is time to actually start talking about the business plan for the co-op. First some background info. Without being specific, I live in a small to moderate sized University town that is surrounded by agriculture. Furthermore the town is near ideal for starting up a Biodiesel Co-op because it is several things; progressive, well educated, environmentally concerned, and near agriculture. Why are these things important? Hopefully they speak for themselves. It being progressive is nice for a few reasons. It has a history of supporting local business (sometimes to chagrin of big business), of operating cooperatives, and of supporting new ideas. The well educated and environmentally friendly attitudes make the potential clientele even more attractive as they are more liable to understand climate change and desire to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The agricultural atmosphere is perhaps my favorite part. The town and surrounding areas have a history of organic and low impact farming but perhaps more importantly I value the farmers as potential consumers. Though it would be quite a while until I think we can convince farmers to buy our product or even produce enough volume to make it sensible, I would love to see tractors running off of Biodiesel. All together I don't think I could find a better place to start this Biodiesel cooperative.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hopefully the title of this blog is pretty unambiguous but just in case it's more cryptic than I wanted, this blog chronicles the attempts by its author to create a biodiesel cooperative from the ground up. First, some background is necessary.

Truth be told, this idea is not purely my own. Rather, the idea of starting a biodiesel cooperative was that of my friend and partner who was in turn inspired by the father of a mutual friend, who produces his own homemade biodiesel. At first the idea was more modest; he simply wanted to produce enough biodiesel to power his own car, to avoid high fuel prices. The change came one night at a barbecue. Both my friend and I are involved with a local non-profit theatre company, doing acting and technical work for shows each season. Our theatre company has grown substantially and has surpassed its current energy supply. Because our theatre is so remote, it would be necessary to install an expensive new line to feed it anymore power. So instead, we decided it would make sense to buy a portable generator to run during shows. I joked that we should use solar panels or hydrogen fuel cells to be more ecologically friendly. Even though I was being facetious the moment the idea of alternative energy was on the table alarms when off in everyone's head. What about biodiesel?

Though we couldn't find the capital to buy a generator at the time the idea stayed on the back burner and certainly had me assessing the possibilities. As time went on my friend continued to fuel my biodiesel interest and I became a convert. It was then we decided it might be fun to try and start a small biodiesel cooperative in our town. After a while our dreams became more and more like plans.

I will continue to post on this blog as time permits me and to keep readers apprised of my progress, mistakes, failures, and hopefully a few successes. Hope it turns out to be interesting.