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Biodiesel Update – Arizona to Oregon

Powered on BiodieselTwice each year, the ambient clime and bi-regional commitments demands that we set sail, following the wise birds to where the climate suits our clothes. More in the style of turtles than our flying feathered friends we drive our mobile headquarters and bed-quarters along with us.

In January, after touring Oregon and Washington, we departed Northern California and arrived in Arizona on 99+% biodiesel, purchased at a maximum of $3.99/gallon. We were gratified to establish that blends of at least B-99 were available at regular enough intervals to allow transit between the Canadian and Mexican borders without resorting to petro-diesel.

This summer, our northbound trip promised to be expensive. With roughly 1300 miles to traverse, we knew that the price of petroleum would be affecting the biodiesel market. The bus was parked in the desert with a tank nearly full of B99 in March, when the price was $3.23. On May 30, topping off at the same station, the rate had risen to $4.65, which turned out to be the lowest price of the entire journey.

The problems didn’t end there. Our trip was affected by two outages: At Western States Petroleum in Parker, where a wholesaler or fleet had apparently bought out the supply, all 350 gallons. Unfortunately for us, we’d gone 30 miles out of our way and had no other choice but to purchase a few gallons of diesel petro-gunk. Important lesson learned: phone ahead for availability and hours before committing to a route on long-term bio-diesel trips. Be sure to verify the blend as well; several times along the way we learned that only B-20 was available where biofuels were advertised.

We were finally able to get biodiesel in posh West Hollywood after rearranging our course. The at-pump price of $5.39 is the highest we’ve paid for any type of fuel anywhere; even a $20 donation on the spot scarcely eased the pain of the $175 tank fill-up. We were paying 60 cents a gallon more for bio-diesel than we would have for petro, which seemed to be an odd choice on a budget. This is pure profiteering, but a definite sign that supplies need to shift away from soy and other food sources toward technologies like algae for diodiesel and cellulose alchohol for ethanol.

The change in plans put us out of reach of our Santa Monica fill-up, so we shook things up and brought Mahayana, the big vehicle, on her first ride along the Pacific Coast Highway so we could refuel in Monterey, since we weren’t sure the tank would hold out until Santa Cruz. Those of you who have taken scenic Highway 1 know that it is a slow, curvy, oftentimes nerve-wracking two-lane exercise in zen driving, but the trip up the coast went well despite some cabin sickness and an overly aggressive honey-bee.

Santa Cruz brought the second disappointment: Pacific Biofuels, a promising supplier, had closed its doors a week earlier. This didn’t really affect our plans, since at that point we still had a healthy tank from our Monterey fill-up, but finding their doors closed contributed to the dark outlook we were starting to develop on the future of bio-fuel in the heart of alternative culture.

Arcata rounded out the changes in California, where the tank has been removed from the only mainstream station in Northern California, a Texaco on Somoa. We were hardly even surprised at this point; changes are to be expected at every turn and edits on every list in the volatile market in California.

Footprint Recycling was just a hop down the highway, but the overall impression is that, instead of making headway with mainstream consumers, biodiesel is being bought out by fleets who have depleted the supply and inflated the price at the expense of consumers.

The picture is somewhat rosier in Oregon, where SeQuential Biofuels maintains several very attractive and well-supplied alternative fuel stations, complete with E85 a full dollar cheaper than local gasoline.

Biodiesel was just under $5, which we’d already gotten used to. This seemed interesting in light of complaints about ethanol contributing to food shortages. If this were so, it seems that, like their biodiesel counterparts, gasohol products would be costlier than the petroleum equivalent.

All in all, the obvious message of our coastal trip is that the supply of biodiesel is falling far short of the demand, especially with fleets buying it up for their 20% blend. New methods must be implemented, and immediately, if organic alternatives to petroleum fuels are to become practical for the majority of drivers.

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