Bringing Biodiesel to Alaska: The Seattle Model

November 8, 2007

We’re looking for an Alaska gas station willing to import and sell biodiesel.

In the summer of 2006 the Oil and Water Project kids drove from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego on biodiesel and vegoil. While they were here Seattle Biodiesel a.k.a. Imperium Renewables shipped them a couple of 275 gallon totes of ASTM-quality biodiesel.

Later that summer Todd Ellis from Imperium Renewables met with Anchorage Mayor Begich’s Waste Cooking Oil Task Force and spoke about the possibilities of importing ASTM biodiesel to Alaska. He mentioned Propel Biofuels as a company that might be able to speed the process along.

During 2007 Imperium once again shipped totes to Alaska. This time, Luke Lohmuller at Camp Denali organized a shipment of 7 totes as a part of their dedication to renewable energy.

This isn’t too different from what was happening in Seattle only a few years ago.

In the early 2000s you could get biodiesel in Seattle at Dr. Dan’s Alternative Fuelwerks, a private alternative-fuel filling station. Then, home-based enthusiasts like TurboFroggy started buying totes of biodiesel and selling biodiesel to the public out of their garages.

I bought my first commercial ASTM biodiesel at the Chevron near the University of Washington. They had a tote loaded onto a pickup truck with a little red fill-rite pump connected to it. You had to go into the convenience store and get an employee to come out and pump it from the plastic tote into your vehicle. Very low overhead. They wanted the names and numbers of everyone who bought it, and penciled everything into a little book.

This approach worked and as demand climbed biodiesel distribution moved from garages and the back of pickup trucks to “real” gas pumps like the B20 available at the Deming Quick Stop outside of Bellingham.

Only after importing on a small scale did retail stations start popping up, and only after demand grew did local production move from backyard brewers to commercial plants.

I’ve run into a number of enthusiatic entreprenuers who want to build a biodiesel plant in Alaska. With 500,000 gallons of waste cooking oil that is largely exported to the far east, and over 10 million gallons of unrendered fish oil (that is cast as carcasses back to the ocean), it seems that there is a good feedstock base to build on.

Ben May from Alaska Biofuels wrote an excellent Biodiesel Feasibility Study for the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. According to May, the plant hasn’t been built because of a lack customer contracts.

It seems that no one wants to commit to buying biodiesel on a large scale without trying it first.

Either someone needs deep pockets to float a small production plant for a few years until demand takes off, or following the Seattle model, we need to import biodiesel and build demand.

Biodiesel is just over three dollars a gallon and diesel is at a similar price. Let’s say it costs about $3 a gallon (a conservative estimate – $2 may be more realistic) to ship biodiesel to Alaska. Six dollars a gallon isn’t going to convince many people. But, assuming $3 for diesel $6 for biodiesel, B20 blends could be sold for $3.60. Is that cost comparative enough for those with political and/or environmental reasons to spend a little more? With the number of requests for biodiesel that we get, I think it is.

What we need is a filling station, or even a garage owner, to step up and make it happen.

Veg On!

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One Response to “Bringing Biodiesel to Alaska: The Seattle Model”

  1. mrbenz7 Says:

    I can tell you the Arizona model works much better! I can go down to my local Shell station and pump right into my tank! Now I know that we are a conservative Republican state, but our program of using investors to produce and distribute Biodiesel has been a much better network than Seattle. I know that the money from Oil and Gas development in Alaska seems to have persuaded many politicians to appear to have taken bribes, but that is not the fault of the party, it is the fault of the individual. It has come with great effort from our Republican Senators and congressmen that we have such a great biodiesel program down here! I am planning to move to Alaska and I’m dissapointed that Anchorage doesn’t have any biodiesel retailers up there and I have to wonder if it isn’t because of the low winter temps? Shell is the biggest retailer down here but there are others and they will tell you it makes sense to provide what their customers want to buy! Is any fuel refining done in Alaska? I would hope that B20 biodiesel blends would be available soon since that cold weather formula seems to work well in Flagstaff where 6 feet of snow and subzero tempds during the winter months are not uncommon!


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