The Biodiesel Coop Next Door

Many people are engaged in the search for new renewable energy alternatives to the use of oil to provide fuel for our cars and trucks.  The high cost of oil is hitting a lot of people in their pocketbooks, accelerating the urgency of the quest.  Some are even taking matters into their own hands, producing their own fuel with small scale “backyard” biodiesel producing from used vegetable oil (Opportunity 3 in 75 Green Businesses).

Recently I found out that my neighbor is helping to build a biodiesel coop with 20 other like-minded Southern Californians.  With the high price of gasoline, particularly diesel, this is no surprise  - the surprise is that there are not more people doing this. 

One key is getting a reliable source of used vegetable oil from a local restaurant.  Another key is figuring out how to process it.  Finally, the coop is figuring out how to structure itself to produce and use the fuel.

One interesting trend my neighbor told me about is that the quality of cooking oil from restaurants is declining, with the oil getting used more.  With dirtier oil, the biodiesel produced from it can also be dirtier if it is not cleaned up before it is used.  To clean the oil, people like my neighbor are increasingly adapting centrifugation systems used to purify fuel for ships.  This trend appears to be spreading through the biodiesel community, providing reliable, cost effective biodiesel production more readily than other methods like filtration.

Over time some biodiesel coops like Piedmont Biofuels ( expand to produce fuel to the public, sustaining themselves from the proceeds.  If the cost of oil stays high, or goes higher, biodiesel producers large and small will have their hands full keeping up with demand.


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