Feb 232006
Authors: Mike Donovan

Music legend Willie Nelson believes he found the next big thing that will sweep the nation. But his idea has nothing to do with country music. Willie Nelson believes biodiesel is the way of the future for automobiles.

Nelson, who has sold biodiesel commercially since October 2004, is a staunch believer in this alternative fuel. While Nelson's company, Willie Nelson Biodiesel, does not sell its fuel in Colorado, there is a local company trying to get biodiesel into the mainstream.

Westminster-based Blue Sun Biodiesel sells biodiesel across the Rocky Mountains and built the first biodiesel terminal in the United States that commercially mixes B20 biodiesel. B20 is a mix of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel and is the most common form of biodiesel currently available. B20 consumption is definitely on the rise, according to one local distributor.

"We are certainly going to see further growth in the future," said Mark Hartman, office manager of Team Petroleum.

Team Petroleum, located at 105 E. Lincoln Ave., just east of Old Town, sells Blue Sun B20 from a special pump installed just for biodiesel. The special pump opened in December 2005 and gets use from 20 to 30 customers a day, Hartman guesses. The majority of those consumers are Fort Collins city employees.

The city of Fort Collins has more than 80 vehicles that use biodiesel, Hartman said. These vehicles include the city's garbage trucks and snow plows. Along with these vehicles, about one-third of the diesel pumped into the city's Transfort buses is biodiesel.

Biodiesel is a fuel that can be made from vegetable oils or animal fats. The most common product used to make biodiesel is soybean oil. However, biodiesel can be made from a variety of feed products including French fry grease or canola oil.

One of the main reasons for interest in biodiesel is that people want to get away from dependency on foreign oil, according the National Biodiesel Board (NBB). President Bush toured the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden on Tuesday and took part in a panel that discussed the uses of alternative fuels including biodiesel. Bush vowed in this year's State of the Union address to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

Poudre Valley Coop, located on Frontage Road on the eastern edge of Fort Collins, has been selling biodiesel for about a year and a half, said operations manager Ed Race. The Coop buys their biodiesel from a variety of small distributors, instead of one large distributor like Team Petroleum. Race has been happy with the biodiesel pump.

"The number of gallons sold has increased every month," Race said.

Figures released by the National Biodiesel Board have shown an increase of Biodiesel consumption in every year since 1999. In 2004, 30 million gallons of biodiesel were used by Americans, as opposed to half a million gallons in 1999.

Hartman says customers who use biodiesel will end up satisfied with the product.

Brittney Walker, junior biological science major, (CQ)cm has been happy with biodiesel ever since she started filling her Volkswagen Beetle with the fuel source.

"My car runs better and the biodiesel reduces my car's emissions," Walker said. "I would definitely recommend using biodiesel."

As of Thursday, biodiesel is being sold at $2.62 a gallon at Team Petroleum and $2.65 a gallon at Poudre Valley Coop. Currently the price of biodiesel is about five cents more expensive by the gallon than regular diesel. Race said there is no correlation in the prices of biodiesel and diesel.

"The prices are completely different. Sometimes biodiesel is a nickel under regular diesel, sometimes it is 15 cents more expensive," Race said.

Any car that uses regular diesel is able to use biodiesel. Major car companies such as Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler have embraced biodiesel and all major automobile companies allow consumers to use biodiesel instead of traditional diesel with no effect on their car's warranty.

Nationwide, there are more than 450 retail biodiesel pumps and 35 biodiesel fuel plants, according to the NBB. The U.S. Military, L.L. Bean and Fort Collins' own New Belgium Brewery all run their vehicles on biodiesel. Hartman believes even more companies will start to use the alternative fuel source in the future.

"People want to lessen their dependency on foreign oil and this is one way to do that," Hartman said. "Every little bit counts."

Mike Donovan can be reached at regional@collegian.com.

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