Biofuels debate

Anyone else out there feel like a 1970s revival is on its way? I’m not talking about bell bottoms and polyester, but gas lines and fuel shortages.

As some of you know, I work/own a biodiesel station in Berkeley with five other women. Most days our customers come in and happily pay more than the price of regular diesel. They do so because they know that our biodiesel is sustainably made: we sell fuel made from recycled vegetable oil within our community (Oakland/SF Bay Area). It’s better for the environment, for the workers (we have intimate contact with biodiesel—pumping it into the truck, dispensing it, changing fuel filters), and for our customers.

Lately it’s become very easy to dismiss using biofuels. Biodiesel and ethanol are getting a bad rap. The former head of the UN called biofuels a crime against humanity. So I guess I should just shut up and get a gas car like everyone else.

The reason I got into biodiesel was self-empowerment. I learned how to make my own fuel by scrounging through a restaurant grease trap, processing it with lye and wood alcohol, and viola: fuel for our old Mercedes. I didn’t have to buy a Prius (which I can’t afford). If it rained, I had a car to drive instead of my prefered transpo option, biking. Then I joined our collective and learned how to drive a biodiesel big rig, fix cars, and run a business. So biofuel changed my life for the better. So, despite the UN, I’m still pro-biofuel. The question is: what kind of biofuel? How was it made? Local? Recycled? Does it enrich our community? Is it traceable?

Our biodiesel costs $4.99/gallon. That’s about 50 cents more expensive than regular diesel. Lately, some people have become scared. I see it on their faces at the station. Is the price going to go up again? someone will ask over the phone.

Yes. Each of us needs to change the way we think about energy, food, power. Each of us needs to come up with our own solutions within our community. If expensive fuel will motivate you to ride your bike more often (as it has for me) or start lobbying for better public transportation, or car sharing, then isn’t that a good thing? As I watch the food shortages unfold, and see the demise of cheap energy, which made everything cheap, I’m grateful that I know how to grow my own food, milk goats, breed rabbits. And I want to teach more people how to do all those things. We have to feel empowered in order to make a difference.

We have to start getting realistic about the cost of everything. The days of cheap energy are gone. We have to plan accordingly. I know at our biofuel station we’re going to start teaching more people how to farm in the city, to drive electric cars, to ride their bikes, use car share. We can’t just throw our hands up in despair. Action, not despair.

6 responses to “Biofuels debate

  1. Excellent post. I ‘m going to link to it for our “slow life” group. We have been trying to buy all of our food from local women owned businesses or grow it ourselves. 4.99 is half the price our gas here in France, heck, its cheaper than a gallon of milk! Next time you come to visit will you show us how to make our car run on biodiesel? there are a lot of french friers around us with barrels of used oil and I make my own lye (for pozole). I feel change in the air…

  2. I have noticed the last couple of weeks at my daughters school that more families have been riding thier bikes with kids to school. It is really amazing to see all of the bikes in the rack each morning and all of the moms with there crooked helmets and bags hanging off of the bikes as they learn to get around without there SUV’s. I live in such a flat bike friendly town and more people are using it to it’s potential.

  3. Ethanol isn’t a good alternative, really. It is too energy intensive/wasting and polluting to produce and a food crop should never be used mainly for fuel. Even some of the stinking politicians are realizing it albeit I’m sure it has nothing to do with the elections coming up. *wink* Biodiesel is a great alternative, as are biofuels however, and the oil sources that could be used “crude” (rapeseed, hemp, etc) are a much more energy efficient choice than corn for ethanol. Recycled oils are the best and should be the first choice, especially since anyone has access to it. The real problems are the lobbyists from big agribusiness, the chemical and the petroleum industries. They, and others, are embedded in the US government. No good reason/excuse exists for us being dependent on petroleum oil at this time. That should have changed 30 years ago! The only reasons are greed and ignorance. And we certainly don’t want to give Monsanto et al wider excuses and uses of their GMO seeds. Had the current administration had balls and intelligence, they would have cut dependence on petroleum period on 9-12-01, but than we wouldn’t be on our current course of becoming a Third World Country, would we?
    With recent advances in solar, hopefully cars will be able to completely run using the sun wherever applicable. The sad thing is, we have the knowledge and means to end the fuel insanity.

  4. Novella Carpenter

    riana–next time billy and i are there, we’ll show you how to do it!
    i love the bike solution best of all. i think we’ll all live much more locally, and i’m preparing for the time when flying just isn’t financially (or environmentally) possible.
    as for the ethanol/biofuel problems, i wonder about the logic of our feast/famine energy policy. instead of slowly increasing the price of fuel and using that money for public transportation, we have these energy shocks that freak everyone out then go away and we forget about the problem until the next crisis. we have a hard time in the u.s. planning ahead, and it is not good.

  5. the other day some guy with a bio diesal bumper sticker started up his car , and ……..talk about emissions! the dirt of it was really bad.

  6. Novella Carpenter

    hi flower. or they don’t even use biodiesel and that’s diesel fumes. biodiesel is still part of the imperfect system of roads and cars that i was criticizing. and yes, old diesel cars that poor people like me can afford (versus the brand new tdi vw diesel which are super clean) often look like they are polluting more. but you take the same era car–1970s and the biodiesel car *is* cleaner. you just can’t see all the carbon monoxide coming out of the tailpipe of the gas car.

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