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July 26-August 1, 2006

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Live Feed - Stett Holbrook

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Drive Your Vegetables

By Stett Holbrook

I NEED a new car. The Honda I'm driving now has 116,000 miles on it and I want to sell it while it's still running. I'm not sure what kind of car I'll get, but I'm leaning toward a diesel vehicle because I want to run the car on biodiesel. There are so many reasons to go biodiesel. Biodiesel is made from refined vegetable oil. It is not a petroleum product. Biodiesel is biodegradable, nontoxic and smells like popcorn coming out of a car's tail pipe. Biodiesel cuts smog-producing emissions by almost 50 percent and reduces global warming causing carbon dioxide emissions by 78 percent. As a plant-based fuel, biodiesel is a renewable resource that's not dependent on the petro-dictatorships of the Middle East or fouling wilderness and offshore waters with oil drilling. It's also one of the best ways to hoist a mighty middle finger to oil companies and warmongering oilmen like President Bush and his boss Dick Cheney and say, "I don't need your stinking oil anymore."

According to, the website for the National Biodiesel Board, if the true cost of using foreign oil were imposed on the price of imported fuel, renewable fuels, such as biodiesel, probably would be the most viable option. In 1996 it was estimated that the military cost of securing foreign oil was $57 billion annually. Foreign tax credits accounted for another estimated $4 billion annually, and environmental costs were estimated at $45 per barrel. For every billion dollars spent on foreign oil, America lost 10,000-25,000 jobs. With biodiesel selling for just about $3.26 a gallon (about 10 cents more than the average price of gasoline this week), what's not to like?

The trouble with biodiesel is deciding on the right vehicle and finding gas stations that sell the fuel. I don't want to buy a diesel pickup truck, so that basically leaves a diesel Volkswagen or Mercedes. The bigger issue is the availability of the fuel. Currently, there are just a handful of gas stations that sell biodiesel in the Bay Area. That makes filling up less than convenient. I have fantasies about striking deals with local fast food restaurants to cart off their used fryer oil and pour it in the tank. While using unrefined oil like this requires some minor engine modifications, pulling up at a biodiesel gas station would be a lot easier. But the only biodiesel gas station in Silicon Valley is in San Jose, way down on 10th Street at Western States Oil.

The good news is that San Jose will soon be home to the largest biodiesel refinery in the state. Golden Gate Petroleum, a Martinez-based fuel distributor, has partnered with BayBioFuels to open the refinery near the San Jose International Airport. In the first year the company is expected to produce 5 million gallons of biodiesel and 10 million gallons the next year. The company hopes to open its facility this fall and plans to open a retail outlet in the city as well. If sales go well, the company may open other outlets on the peninsula or in Marin County.

Krispin Miller, operation manager for Golden Gate Petroleum, says his company chose San Jose in part because the facility will have access to a railroad spur, allowing soybean oil to be shipped directly to the plant. While having a local refinery won't drive down the cost of biodiesel, Miller said his company is exploring regional sources of soybean oil that don't require such long distance shipping. Currently most soybean oil comes from the Midwest, but more local sources could mean lower costs at the pump.

Kicking the petroleum habit and going biodiesel has never looked so appealing.

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