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November 2003

Vegetable-Based Diesel Fuel Sweetens the Air in Vermont

Berlin, VT— During mud season, the dirt road that leads to Dog River Alternative Fuels Company, LLC, in Berlin, Vermont, is impassable. The only way up is to climb on the back of John Hurley’s tractor, which is fueled by biodiesel made by his company, Dog River. Gray fumes puff into the air, but it doesn’t smell like typical diesel exhaust. Instead, the air is filled with the unmistakable odor of French fries.

Hurley, a logger and sawmill operator, received a grant to produce a renewable, vegetable-based fuel for diesel engines, known as biodiesel using inexpensive supplies through a process called transesterification. Once food bits have been filtered out, trans-fatty acids are mixed with lye and methanol, resulting in a highly energetic reaction that forms two products: glycerin, a waste product, and mono-alkyl ester - a biodegradable lubricant and fuel for diesel engines.

Biodiesel is easily produced, its manufacture emits no noxious greenhouse gases, and, unlike the petroleum products it replaces, biodiesel is a renewable resource. “I can produce 40 gallons at a time with a 100 percent return on the oil,” Hurley explains.

Not only is the manufacturing of vegetable-based fuels environmentally neutral, the use of the fuel itself has many environmental benefits. A report by the Environmental Protection Agency verified the advantages of biodiesel over petroleum diesel. The report found that using biodiesel reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 47 percent, hydrocarbons by 67 percent, air toxics by 60-90 percent, and mutagenic elements by 80-90 percent.

In order to be recognized as a certified and legal supplier of biodiesel fuels for on-road use, manufacturers must either register with the EPA and meet the ASTM& (American Standard for Testing and Material) for fuels or become a member of the National Biodiesel Board. For small manufacturers, like Dog River, the cost of joining the NBB is prohibitive. Nor can Hurley afford the ASTM testing, though he is continuing to make improvements in order to meet the standards.

In the meantime, Dog River is selling biodiesel for off-road use to loggers, farmers, portable sawmill operators, and recreational users. Hurley’s goal is to meet the ASTM standards and sell the fuel for on-road use at a fuel pump on a main road where users could fill up on their own.

 


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