Monday, July 18, 2005

Bio Future or Boondoggle?

There is unlimited energy bombarding earth from the Sun. It's just a matter of how we capture it and put it to use - hydroelectric from water running down; growing wood; solarvoltaic are available immediately. Coal, oil and natural gas take longer. We won't run out of energy until the Sun burns out in about 9 billion years. But we have to find new ways of converting that energy so we can use it. Seattle Biodiesel is a leader at making diesel fuel from plant oils, the Seattle Times reports. They sell to several wholesalers and the retailer Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks in Ballard (Seattle). SB produces 4,000 gallons per day and sells out every day.
Customers find it very "self-empowering" to reduce the impact on global warming and that "they don't have to support foreign oil," Freeman said. He claimed Seattle has more biodiesel customers per capita than any other city in the United States.
And the new owner software entrepreneur Martin Tobias says he is an addict.
"We have to deal with corrupt and horrible countries because of this heroin dependency on fuel that we have," he said. "Here we are a drug addict."
Does it make economic sense? It takes 7.3 pounds of soy beans to make one gallon of biodiesel. The soy costs 20 cents per pound, which makes it $1.46 of soy for one gallon. Diesel is now selling for $2.59. The costs of production and distribution make it unprofitable with the current economics. There is a federal subsidy as well. Tobias intends to bring costs down by scaling up.
"You can't do it on an economic basis without a government subsidy," said Bruce Finlayson, a chemical-engineering professor at the University of Washington. "That needs to be there if we're going to have biodiesel."
As well as reducing production costs Tobais hope to develop better plants - the ones that grow - that produce more oil for a better price. I hope he will succeed. Without the subsidies.

1 comment:

Ron said...


Yes. The byproducts make it more economically feasible. I want biodiesel to succeed. But to succeed on its own - including through the hard work and ingenuity of Tobias and others - but to succeed on its own. Not the artificial success of getting favor with the politicians.

OK. Tax incentives can help good programs get started. But just to get started, then stop them.

And let's look for other ways of making the Sun's energy accessible.