Biodiesel Conference generates local interest

About 30 people gathered at the Wilton Community Center on Saturday morning, March 15 to discuss the importance of biodiesel for our agricultural community. Bring It Home Biofuels Co-op hosted the gathering.

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Opening the event, Bob Goonin linked the harm caused to area residents by the recent shortage and skyrocketing price of propane as a glimpse of things to come for another critical energy resource in our rural area – diesel fuel. ‘We need to grow our energy self-reliance as a community’, Goonin said.

Ron Ruppell of Sunpower Biodiesel in Cumberland, WI presented the keynote address. Sunpower produces ASTM certified biodiesel, supplies Organic Valley’s biodiesel fuel pump in La Farge and has delivered to a number of Bring It Home Biofuels member farms and maple syrup operations.

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Ruppell said the oil companies promote a false food versus fuel choice to oppose local production of biofuels that would reduce our dependency on them and cut into their profits. Ruppell noted that ‘a minimum of 85% of the full cycle of the weight of oil seed crops goes into food.’ That’s because the meal by-product from the oil pressing operation is a high quality animal feed. So the land used for oil seed crops is in fact producing both food and fuel.

‘We are pioneers. I have come to believe that we want to be masters of our own destiny in our rural area… If you have your choice of having a renewable resource [biodiesel] added to an 80% finite resource [petroleum diesel] that will diminish over the next 100 years, you want to have that 20% in your local area.’

Three farmer members of Bring It Home Biofuels spoke about their experience with biodiesel. Byron Gillaspie provided a long list of farm equipment and diesel pickups that he had successfully used biodiesel with. ‘Things run quieter, start up better, run smoother.’, Gillaspie said. Chris Mahan indicated that a Growers Committee had formed within Bring It Home Biofuels with plans to grow and market oil seed crops in the coming year.

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Jim Small said he goes through 2,000 to 2,500 gallons of fuel each year. He grew 20-25 acres of sunflowers and pressed them himself to provide fuel for his farm. In response to a question about by-products, Jim said, We fed the meal back to their own dairy cattle. Sunflower meal puts nice shiny coat on the animals, its high in energy: 15 – 24% protein.’ In a twist on the food vs fuel issue, Small said, ‘the sunflower are really grown for the livestock – we’re just taking the byproduct out for our fuel.’

Zach Bierman, who manages the use of biodiesel in Organic Valley’s truck fleet told some funny stories about the early days of biodiesel use. Zach contrasted those early days with how far the industry and the quality of the fuel has come in 10 years. ‘Five years ago we counted and we had burned over 2 million miles on a B20 or greater in the Organic Valley fleet. Now we run 150,000 gallons of fuel a year through those fleet trucks. ‘ His advice: ‘If you want to have a positive experience with biodiesel know where your feed stock came from, know what blend you’re putting in your truck, do a good job of keeping your fuel filter changed and your tanks clean.’

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Rob Steinhofer spoke about the practical aspects of driving cars using biodiesel and shared his motivation, ‘What really brings it home for me, every gallon of biodiesel I pump into my car feeds the local economic community, and says ‘no’ to that oil industrial complex’ that Rob holds responsible for US involvement in foreign wars and bloodshed. Then he took folks outside to look under the hood at several cars running on biodiesel.

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Along with some sharp questions from those attending there was wonderful food, lots of wonderful conversation and some new friendships formed based on a shared commitment to growing a local alternative to petroleum diesel.

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