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November 08, 2005

Biofuels Bonanza

Three stories around Cascadia mark the spread of biofuels: biomass for heating schools, biodiesel for heating homes, and a new cross-border biodiesel project for trucks.

Brush fires in the school
The AP recently reported on a Forest Service program, Fuels for Schools, that sends the slashed brush and limbs from forest thinning to heat schools in several states including Idaho and Montana. Replacing oil furnaces, biofuels reduce cost, air pollution, and dependence on foreign oil. I'm all for finding new uses for waste products. But is this really a good idea?

We keep hearing that decades of fire suppression have built up dangerous amounts of fire-prone underbrush in the region's forests. That's probably right. Still, it's not too implausible that thinning could get out of hand, leading to a different sort of ecological imbalance. Rampant thinning may also remove soil nutrients that forests needs to thrive.  And, as we've seen with Oregon's and Washington's school funding, using wood to heat schools could create perverse incentives to thin excessively in order to give schools cheaper heat.

Still, on a limited scale, Fuels for Schools' proven benefits likely outweigh the uncertain costs.

Biodiesel for your home
The Seattle PI reports that local biodiesel fans can now put "powered by biodiesel" bumper stickers on their homes. Two Seattle companies are offering 10 to 30 percent biodiesel heating oil. As expected, it doesn't save you money and hasn't been completely proven not to damage regular furnaces, but the companies say customers are very interested.

Cross-border biodiesel
A new cross-border biodiesel project called Bio-49 Degrees will replace some of the diesel in Puget Sound Energy and BC Hydro utility trucks with biodiesel from waste vegetable oil. Much of the biodiesel will be processed and distributed by students learning the trade at two technical colleges in Bellingham and Burnaby. The cross-border collaborative is another example of governments realizing that environmental issues follow bio-geographic, not political boundaries. Air quality in Bellingham, for instance, is affected more by Vancouver than by Seattle.

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» Forest Waste Wood Provides Heat from Firewhirl
I ran across an article that describes how brush piles from forests are used to heat schools (from ENN.com via Cascadia Scorecard Weblog). COUNCIL. Idaho — The tiny Council School District used to pour thousands of dollars into outmoded oil... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 9, 2005 7:12:25 AM

» Forest Waste Wood Provides Heat from Firewhirl
I ran across an article that describes how brush piles from forests are used to heat schools (from ENN.com via Cascadia Scorecard Weblog). COUNCIL. Idaho — The tiny Council School District used to pour thousands of dollars into outmoded oil... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 28, 2006 5:49:33 AM

Comments

Be sure your biodiesel comes from waste oil!

In the US, much commercially-made biodiesel comes from virgin soy oil. Besides the obvious ethical problem of powering SUVs with food while people are hungry, the energy balance (EROEI) for virgin oil biodiesel is not great, and may even be less than unity for corn-based ethanol, according to Cornell University.

Posted by: Jan Steinman | Nov 8, 2005 3:52:04 PM

There are some misconceptions about biodiesel use in homes.

You CAN use biodiesel in a pure form in your furnace. The main problem with using blends of more than 40% is the seal on your pump. I got mine replaced and now use 100% biodiesel with absolutely no problems.

You do need to check that you have a furnace that can run biodiesel in pure form- Laurelhurst Oil can help you with this.

The main thing is the cost. It is actually CHEAPER for 100%$ biodiesel than home heating oil. I saved about 5 cents a gallon. That is significant. I plan on using my own homebrew the next time I fill up and will save even more money.

Give up the fossil fuel addiction!

Posted by: Noam Gundle | Nov 9, 2005 1:06:00 PM

There are two major issues with using fossil fuels. The first is that since we import most of our oil, we are essentially funding foreigners with militant anti american sentiment in Saudi Arabia, Venezula, Nigeria, Kuwait, etc etc. The second is the pollution part, which is also a major factor.
It seems to me that its shortsighted to be concerned with slight cost differences between oil and biodesiel because of what is at stake for our country.
In addition, using the reason people are going hungry in this country is not the amount of food produced, the US exports the most grain in the world, but that the people don't have the income to buy the food. So using the virgin soy oil isn't taking away from our citizens, its just increasing our trade defecit.

Posted by: Gary Durning | Nov 10, 2005 10:51:16 AM