Friday, June 30, 2006

Area entrepreneurs getting into the biodiesel business

Forget the Middle East, Nigeria or the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. The fast-food kitchen is the chic place where environmentalists and entrepreneurs are tapping another source of oil.

Leftover restaurant grease is being used to make an increasingly popular alternative fuel — a blend of vegetable oils, animal fats and diesel popping up at more metro Atlanta stations.

Rob del Bueno, a leader in Atlanta’s “underground” biodiesel community the past few years, is launching his first mom-and-pop-style, pay-at-the-pump location.
His Atlanta biodiesel station at the corner of DeKalb Avenue and Oxford Road should be up and running by mid-July.

He isn’t alone. Citgo Food Mart in Alpharetta started selling biodiesel in the past two weeks.
In all, 10 stations selling the fuel — which burns cleaner than diesel — are scattered across Georgia from Rome to Waycross, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Many are selling it for $2.88, or about the same price as standard diesel.

So why will drivers turn to biodiesel if it’s not cheaper?
“The environmental benefits,” said del Bueno, whose endeavor gets funding from a foundation that wants his business model to spread across the Southeast.

Strike the iron while it’s hot
The concept may have its best chance yet. With oil prices hovering near $70 a barrel and the price of gas at the pump hanging around $2.80, consumers are more willing to listen to talk about alternative fuels. “We’re a nonprofit, so we’re really not looking to make money,” del Bueno said. “We want people to learn from this period and consider biodiesel as an option. Some may want to stick with it.”

Biodiesel is nothing new. But its burgeoning popularity is.
The volume produced and sold in the United States tripled from 25 million gallons in 2004 to 75 million last year, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Some 850 U.S. retail locations offer biodiesel at the pump in grades from B-5, or 5 percent biodiesel, to B-20.
Soybeans are the most common source of the fuel — which can run in any diesel engine.

Not just for the environmentally conscious
A few years ago, del Bueno made only enough biodiesel for use in his old Mercedes and the cars of a few friends. He helped spearhead an Atlanta grass-roots effort to embrace biodiesel, launching a Web site, creating an online forum and holding seminars.
“Education has always been an important aspect of this,” del Bueno said.
Now, he shares the world of biodiesel with businessmen who want to make a buck and help the environment.
Gwinnett resident Dan Maher is building a biodiesel production plant in Loganville that can make at least 1,000 gallons a day. By winter, he wants to offer biodiesel-at-the-pump at his chain of Dirty Dan’s car
Maher, owner of Georgia Biofuels Corp., said he could have 15 franchises set up by the end of next year.
One of his aims is to offer energy security — an increasingly important issue for Americans as the oil supply has been put at risk in recent months by hostile countries and historic hurricanes.
“You want to be able to see a business owner take pride in his investment,” Maher said. “This is American made — that’s the biggest thing. Plus, it’s a better fuel that burns cleaner. People want it.”


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