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Biodiesel business brings earth-friendly fuel to Barron County

Published on 23 August, 2006, Last updated at 00:48 GMT

By Jeremy Jensen

If you drive a diesel vehicle or use diesel machinery anywhere in Barron County, there is a new company in the area that is committed to making earth-friendly biodiesel fuel available anywhere in Western Wisconsin. There's no need to spend afternoons concocting "biodiesel" mixes in the garage, no need to press soybeans, and no need to purchase equipment that is back-ordered for months-the solution is just a short trip away.

The recent opening of BioDiesel Blue Distribution, LLC, located in the old feed mill in Cameron on 8th Street, has Barron County poised to be a leader in the biodiesel movement in the state, and possibly the Midwest-and BioDiesel Blue COO Zeke Robinson couldn't be happier.

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"Barron County is definitely wanting biodiesel, and they want to be self-sufficient in fuel," says Robinson. "It's good for the farmers in the area, and it's good for the local economy."

Robinson says that BioDiesel Blue was so impressed by the strides made in Barron County-the county highway department has been experimenting with biodiesel in pickups and trucks for months-that the company decided to move its Wisconsin headquarters from Pepin to the Village of Cameron in early July.

"Honestly, there just wasn't that much demand down there," says Robinson. "Here, we almost have more demand than we know what to do with."

Besides increased demand, Robinson says the availability of rail service close by-a railway runs nearly to the door of the distribution plant-and an affordable vacant building to house their equipment were important factors in the decision to move the business.

Since moving to Cameron, BioDiesel Blue is bringing 21,000 gallons per week into its facility-about three tanker loads-and that's just for local customers.
"We also ship product directly to consumers as well, so we deal with quite a large amount of biodiesel," says Robinson.

To put 21,000 gallons in perspective, a semi can travel about 650-700 miles on 100 gallons of biodiesel-that's 700 gallons per week. Essentially, BioDiesel Blue brings in enough fuel every week for 30 semis to travel 4,900 miles each.

"And we keep getting more people coming in," Robinson says, pointing to a man who walked through the door asking about biodiesel. "Everyone seems to be curious about it. We just need to get the word out there that it's available locally."

What is biodiesel?

According to the National Biodiesel Board, biodiesel is a domestic, renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like soybean oil. Biodiesel is often a blend of traditional petroleum-based diesel fuel and soybean, rapeseed or canola oil.

Due to the relatively recent publicity about biodiesel as an alternative to traditional diesel fuel, Robinson says a number of myths have been circulating about biodiesel.

"We've heard people say it voids your engine's warranty, it's expensive to change your engine over to use biodiesel, you have to carry a case of filters wherever you go because it clogs filters like crazy," Robinson says. "We've heard a lot of them."

Robinson is quick to point out that any biodiesel product sold by BioDiesel Blue has to adhere to the same federal standards as regular diesel fuel. He adds that when Adolph Diesel first invented the diesel engine, he designed it with peanut oil in mind.

"Biodiesel is really nothing new, the concept has been around for a long time now," says Robinson. "Sometimes it just takes a while to inform the public about the myths.

Another myth the crew at BioDiesel Blue has heard is that biodiesel will not work in the harsh Wisconsin winters due to a high pouring temperature.

"Normally, biodiesel begins to gel at around 30 degrees, but we've been able to introduce an additive that drops that to around 15 degrees," says Robinson. "Plus, there are heaters available if people are concerned about lower temperatures."

Robinson also points out that as winter approaches, BioDiesel Blue will be blending its fuel to optimize it for colder weather.

"Shortly, we'll start blending it at 90 percent biodiesel to lower that cold-pour temperature," says Robinson, adding that they normally have a 99.9 percent biodiesel blend during the warmer months. "Eventually, we'll start blending it at 80 percent; but we'll take care of all the blending here, none of our customers will have to worry about it."

Future is limitless

As far as the future of biodiesel in Barron County, Robinson sees a limitless potential based on the reception it has received so far from county residents.
"Once they try it [biodiesel], they're back shortly after that for more," says Robinson. "A lot of times we'll have someone come in and get some biodiesel to put in a piece of equipment, and soon they're ordering shipments. There are already customers who are running all of their equipment on biodiesel."

Customers like Earl Lowrie, owner of Ah Fiddlestix Xpress Trucking Company. Lowrie says he is a big fan of biodiesel after trying the product in his semi trucks.

"My fuel mileage kicked up a little since I started using it," says Lowrie. "I ship out to the West Coast, so I can only get it for the trip out there, but as soon as I get back I make sure I get more. I'm very happy with it."

Robinson adds that a number of farmers in the area run all of their equipment on biodiesel, as does Red Cedar Logging, Inc., and Triple-A Maintenance, Inc., both of Cameron. Barron County is also a customer of Biodiesel Blue, purchasing approximately 2,000 gallons per week.

"The county is one of our best resources, as far as how things are going with biodiesel," says Robinson. "For other municipalities who are looking to do this, all they have to do is call the Barron County Highway Department and find out how well it works."

Which the City of Menomonie and Polk County have done, and they are now switching to biodiesel fuel. If the momentum continues to grow, Robinson says a biodiesel production plant could be a possibility in the near future.

"It's a little ways off, but this is a prime area for it," says Robinson, adding that a plant would bring approximately 20 jobs into the area-not including additional distributing jobs that would stem from the presence of a plant.

"It takes 100,000 acres of soybeans or 35,000 acres of canola to make 5 million gallons of biodiesel; if we can convince enough of the local farmers to farm canola, Barron County can be completely self-sufficient in its fuel needs-and it will be grown, processed and sold right here."


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