What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is the environmentally friendly equivalent of diesel. It can only be used in diesel engines. Even at a 20 percent blend, the emissions that come out of the tailpipe can be significantly reduced.
So not everybody can use biodiesel.
That's correct. The somewhat-comparative (fuel) for gasoline engines is ethanol.
What spurred your interest in biodiesel?
It started off at a meeting at Tucson Tallow (a recycling company handling cooking oil and other things). The meeting was to discuss whether the folks at Tucson Tallow would be interested in putting a biodiesel facility on their premises, because you can take the grease that they collect from restaurants and turn that into biodiesel. After that meeting, I turned to the person I had attended the meeting with and said, "Why am I not doing this?" It just seemed like a really good opportunity, especially here in Arizona. Most of the biodiesel in the country is made from soybean oil, and soy doesn't grow really well in Arizona. So you need to look for other agricultural opportunities. After doing a lot more research, I found that there are other opportunities that can exist here in Arizona, so that's what I'm developing at this point.
What does your company do?
My company will manufacture biodiesel fuel. It doesn't manufacture it yet, but it will. We are talking to a company that will produce oil from algae. This company will cultivate algae and press the algae to extract the oil, and we will purchase the oil and turn it into biodiesel.
How'd you come across this algae thing?
There's a professor at the University of New Hampshire, of all places, who published a report in 2004 that basically said the holy grail of the biodiesel industry is going to be algae, because you can extract 100 to 200 times more oil per acre than soy. So just from an efficiency standpoint, algae make a lot of sense. He also went on to say that the best place to cultivate algae is the Salton Sea, which is between here and San Diego (near Palm Springs). So location-wise, we're in a very good place. Once I obtained that report, I started looking at building the business around algae oil. At that time, I thought that algae oil was five, 10 years away. I've come to find out recently algae oil could be as close as one year away, so I've shifted gears with my company and focused on a relationship with a Scottsdale company to obtain oil from algae.
Are you going around to restaurants to collect oil as well?
We will do some of that. We're still very interested in turning the restaurants' used cooking oil into biodiesel, as is another company in town called Grecycle.
Are we seeing biodiesel catch on with more people?
I see more and more vehicles on the road running on biodiesel. Safeway just announced that all of their fleet will run on 20 percent biodiesel, so there are national companies that are taking the big step that needs to be taken to show that these big rigs can run on biodiesel without any problems. The city of Tucson already has a policy that all of its diesel fleet runs on 20 percent biodiesel.
Why the 20 percent figure?
Because the original engine manufacturers--car companies, essentially--right now are only comfortable with a 20 percent blend.
Is it primarily an environmental advantage to switch over, or is it a financial one as well?
Definitely an environmental advantage, because a lot of companies are trying to show how green they are. Even News Corp. recently made the announcement that they were going green. So there are a lot of companies trying to find a way to go green. But financial advantage? It really depends. Right now, biodiesel, even at the wholesale level, is probably selling equivalent to diesel. From a financial standpoint, it's probably a wash.
So what you'll do is provide the biodiesel that gets mixed with the diesel?
That's correct. Once we get up and running, we'll be working with distributors and having them blend it and deliver it to fleets, filling stations, companies, you name it. We imagine we'll be manufacturing biodiesel in a year's time.