CF To Unveil Biodiesel Pump

August 8, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDSCrystal Flash Energy will unveil the area’s first biodiesel pump tomorrow in a public ceremony that will include a “fuel parade” and a biodiesel “sniff test.”

With the 1:30 p.m. event kickoff Tuesday, the company will start offering at the wholesale level a 20 percent soy biodiesel blend at its gas station at 1754 Alpine Ave. NW.

The company has dubbed its product SoyDiesel XC.

Among those expected to be on hand for the event are State representatives Jerry Kooiman, Michael Sak and Glenn Steil Jr.; Mayor John Logie; Don Irman of Ralston, Iowa-based West Central Soy; Dave Meeusen, Zeeland Public Schools’ director of transportation; and representatives of the Michigan Soybean Promotions Committee.

As a cap to the ceremony, diesel vehicles and buses from Herman Miller, The Rapid, Gezon Motors and Zeeland Public Schools will fill up at the pump and lead a fuel parade, said Crystal Flash spokesperson Kelly Smallegan.

Crystal Flash will do the fuel blending with soy oil purchased from a supplier. Crystal Flash President Tom Fehsenfeld declined to release any more details until tomorrow’s press conference.

Crystal Flash has been testing biodiesel blends for about six months in a number of different diesel vehicles, including school buses, farm equipment and the company’s own trucks “just to give us a level of confidence that it does provide good performance,” Fehsenfeld said.

He said the city’s biodiesel project of the past year was a motivating factor in his company’s decision to introduce biodiesel to the local market.

“We found the city’s interest in biodiesel, specifically Corky Overmeyer’s advocacy, really brought biodiesel to our attention. We really think that the city is providing great leadership in helping to start the process of commercializing this type of renewable fuel. It’s been a great project. It’s really shown the feasibility of taking a waste stock — which is what the city is dealing with — and turning it into a useful product.”

The city launched a biodiesel demonstration project last year with a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Biomass Energy Program. Overmeyer, the city’s director of environmental protection services, has directed the project on the city’s end.

Sustainable Research Group, Sierra Geological & Environmental Consultants and Crystal Flash have been partners in the project all along.

The group’s objective from the start was to raise awareness of biodiesel and encourage people to try it, particularly bus systems, commercial truck lines and corporate fleets. The hope was to generate enough interest to get a commercial operation started in West Michigan.

Earlier this year, as part of the project, more than 500 gallons of used commercial fryer oil collected from local restaurants was recycled into biodiesel.

Biodiesel can be made from animal fat or vegetable oils. It works in any diesel engine with few or no modifications, performs like diesel fuel and significantly reduces harmful emissions, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Although the goal was to produce 10,000 gallons of pure biodiesel, the group has produced 1,500 gallons thus far. The partners had used up most of the fuel by early August.

“We’ve got some partners that can use 50 gallons at a time,” said Dave Ver Sluis, president of Sierra Geological & Environmental Consultants. “We have some materials to use up, so we might make another 700 gallons in the next week or so.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from people who’d would like to have their own processors, and from public and private entities who’d like to participate and get some fuel.”

Technically, the city owns the biodiesel processing equipment, but Sierra actually built it and produced and tested the biodiesel. Michigan Protein of Cedar Springs has contributed to the project by collecting used fryer oil from participating restaurants.

The processing equipment, which runs off a generator also fueled by biodiesel, is currently located at the city’s Market Avenue retention basin, but will likely be moved to a different location before long, Ver Sluis said.

Bill Stough, CEO of Sustainable Research Group, said a lot of people, including some from outside the United States, have inquired about the possibility of taking over the project and launching a for-profit enterprise. One company wanted the equipment to produce biodiesel just for its own fleet.

But project partners want to keep the operation in West Michigan and make biodiesel more widely available to everyone, he said.

The project is more or less in limbo right now. With the initial grant drawing to a close, there’s a big question mark on the horizon.

The partners are thinking about applying for another one-year grant from the state to extend the life of the project.

Another grant would allow the partners to do some things they weren’t able to before, such as incorporating a better filtration system and doing some additional fuel testing, which is an expensive process in and of itself, according to Ver Sluis.

He said the state asked the partners to submit another grant application because it was pleased with the results of the city initiative.

One of the unknowns at this point is whether biodiesel would be subject to the same taxes as petroleum diesel or whether it might be partially taxed, depending on the mix of biodiesel to petroleum diesel. No taxes, or lower taxes, could generate a lot of interest in biodiesel, Stough said.

On July 31, the Senate voted 84 to 14 in favor of an energy bill that would provide a 1-cent reduction of the diesel excise tax per percentage of biodiesel blended with diesel, up to a 20 percent blend. Whether the state might consider providing additional incentives remains to be seen.

There’s some concern about biodiesel’s performance in the winter months because vegetable oil can gel as temperatures fall. But with a 20 percent biodiesel blend, the additives already in petroleum diesel ensure the fuel won’t gel at low temperatures, Stough noted.

The city has been using a 20 percent biodiesel blend in one of its sewer cleaning trucks since spring.

“It’s worked fine. We haven’t had any issues at all,” Overmeyer said. “Our motor equipment people were a little leery about using it until they found out more about it so we’ve only been sticking with one vehicle.”

Michigan Protein has used the biodiesel, too.

Ver Sluis has been using biodiesel blends of 5 percent to 100 percent in his own diesel truck since March, as well as in a diesel generator and diesel power washer. As of last week his vehicle was running on pure biodiesel. He plans to use a lower blend during the winter — if the project is extended and more biodiesel can be produced.

“We are all committed to continuing to try to develop the system and also further the education in the Grand Rapids area so we can get biodiesel on board and, hopefully, improve our air quality,” Overmeyer said.   

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