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The Olympian notes biodiesel cheaper than diesel

catching up on press
Biodiesel price beats diesel as fuel costs soar, alternative is more competitive
By John Dodge
The Olympian
At least for now, environmentally friendly biodiesel is cheaper at the pump in South Sound than petroleum-based diesel.
Acme Energy Services, which operates one of the few commercial biodiesel fueling stations in the Puget Sound area, was selling biodiesel for $2.99 a gallon this week, compared with $3.02 for regular diesel fuel. Acme President Tom Allen expects to see a boost in biodiesel sales at the company's card lock station at the intersection of Lilly and Stoll roads in Olympia, if the price gap widens. Weve had a core group of customers who've been willing to pay a premium for biodiesel ever since we started offering it in 2004, he said. But a lot of people shop their pocketbooks. George Bray of Olympia, who fuels his 2003 Volkswagen Jetta with biodiesel at Acmes self-serve station, is encouraged by the cost competitiveness the alternative fuel is showing at the pump. As recently as December, petroleum diesel was more than 50 cents a gallon cheaper than biodiesel at the Acme station. I think its great it will bring more customers into the fold, Bray said. My only concern is: Can biodiesel supply keep up with the demand? Acme purchases its biodiesel from a Midwest supplier that can meet the company's growing demand, Allen said. And a package of legislation approved by the 2006 state Legislature is designed to kick-start biofuel production in Washington with state grants and a requirement that all diesel fuel contain at least 2 percent biodiesel beginning in 2008 and ramping up to 5 percent as biodiesel production statewide increases. Statewide, about 1 million to 1.5 million gallons of biodiesel fuel were purchased by motorists in 2004, according to data supplied at a March 2005 biodiesel roundtable in Olympia. That compares with an overall purchase of 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel in 2004.Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil derived from renewable crops. It is nontoxic, compared with petroleum diesel, which is a finite resource and produces toxic air emissions. Using biodiesel reduces the nations dependence on foreign oil, noted Paul Horton, co-director of Olympia-based Climate Solutions, a conservation group working on global warming issues. As biodiesel production increases, it should become even more cost competitive, Horton said. Were going to see more of this, Horton said. Its a really positive sign. Interviews with several diesel truck owners at the Acme station in Olympia revealed support for biodiesel, as well as a lack of knowledge about the product. I'm not sure if I trust it, said Acme customer Rebecca Holte of Tenino. I need more information before I would change. Scott Brannam, a master sergeant in the Army National Guard, said he uses a 50-50 mix of biodiesel and regular diesel. As long as its within 25 cents a gallon of regular diesel, I've been buying it, he said. The environmental benefits outweigh other things. One of the other things Brannam has noticed is that his truck lugs a little bit pulling a heavy load when it is fueled with pure biodiesel, so he opts for a 50-50 blend. Rick Sholes of Montesano filled up with regular diesel Tuesday, not knowing biodiesel was for sale at the fuel station. I'd switch in a heartbeat, he said when told of the price break. I didn't even see it over there. About 4,000 motorists are buying gas and diesel at the Acme station, which requires a card provided for free by Acme. Up to 25 percent of the diesel purchased is either pure biodiesel or a fuel mixture that is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent regular diesel.
John Dodge is a senior reporter and Sunday columnist with The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or jdodge@theolympian.com.

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