Tag Archives: biodiesel

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.