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Heather Hooper

The Sustainable Advantages of Biodiesel

Biodiesel is a clean burning alternative to petroleum based fuel that is biodegradable, nontoxic, and free of sulfur and aromatics. It can be used in any compression-ignition (diesel) engine with little or no modifications. Biodiesel can be used pure or mixed with petroleum based diesel fuels in any percentage. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to complete the health effects testing requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments (The National Biodioesel Board). Using biodiesel substantially reduces the production of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, which are major contributors to smog formation and ozone depletion (The National Biodiesel Board). In addition, there is a reduced production rate of sulfur oxides and sulfates, which are major components of acid rain (The National Biodiesel Board). It is also registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as a legal motor fuel to sell and distribute (The National Biodiesel Board).

There are two places to purchase biodiesel on San Juan Island:

Island Petroleum (Friday Harbor gas dock) Island Petroleum Services
100 Front Street 315 Carter Avenue
Friday Harbor, WA 98250 Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Our Current State The Gato Verde uses biodiesel as its only fuel source. We have been purchasing about 35 gallons of B99 from the IPS station every week. This is a mixture of 99% pure biodiesel and 1% petroleum based diesel fuel. Island Petroleum Services picks up about 1,000 gallons of all their biodiesel, once a month from the Whole Energy’s facility in Anacortes and brings it back over to San Juan on the ferry (Charlie Myer, pers. comm.). For eight weeks aboard the Gato Verde, our average daily fuel usage was 4.53 gal/day, with a total fuel consumption of 225.6 gallons. Total weekly consumption averaged 28.2 gallons, and is shown in Figure 1.

Total weekly fuel usage on the Gato Verde during 8-week sea component, fall 2007

Figure 1. The total weekly fuel usage on the Gato Verde during the eight weeks onboard.

In Bellingham, Gato Verde’s port, Todd Shuster (pers. comm.) purchases his biodiesel from Whole Energy as well. Whole Energy is a wholesale, retail fuel distributor that provides biodiesel to most of the northwestern corner of Washington State. Their wholesale terminal is located in Anacortes, WA and has strong customer basis in northern King, Skagit, and San Juan counties. They are hoping to have a production facility up and running within the next 24 months in Anacortes (Joshua Clements, pers. comm.). The resources they use are varied, but their number one priority is to utilize waste vegetable oil. However, this is a limited resource, and so they also purchase in-state organically grown seed oil, and other domestically grown organic seed oil (Joshua Clements, pers. comm.). The other thing to consider is how the seed oil used is produced. Using waste vegetable oil is advantageous because it is utilizing a product that would otherwise be wasted. However, soybean oil, and other seed oils have to be processed in order to be extracted from the seeds. The process may be very energy intensive and this diminishes the gains from the clean burning of this fuel.

How can we improve? The use of biodiesel is a huge step in reducing our environmental impact. However there are always ways to continue to improve. The first, and most obvious, way to reduce our environmental impact in regards to fuel usage is to decrease it. Many times the weather conditions are not conducive to sailing, or it does not meet the needs of our research goals, so we must utilize our engines as our means of transportation. Nonetheless, whenever possible, we should be taking advantage of wind power while aboard the Gato Verde.

Imperium Renewables plans to build the nation’s largest biodiesel manufacturing facility in Grays Harbor, WA. It hopes to provide up to 100 million gallons per year of biodiesel made from soybeans, canola oil, and other extracts. Imperium Renewables currently owns the largest biodiesel operation in the west Seattle area, located near Safeco field. This facility’s current capacity is about five million gallons of biodiesel per year. Buying from this source, instead of Whole Energy would reduce our carbon footprint because it is a more local resource and the biodiesel would not have to be shipped across the country. However, Whole Energy may become the more local option once they have their production facility up and running. There are many different ways to produce biodiesel, and so we need to prioritize the different components when choosing our biodiesel provider. 1) They should primarily use waste vegetable oil, but this is a very limited resource, so when this runs out the best sources are: 2) Organically produced seed oil. The pesticides and other chemicals that go into producing seed oil leave a large carbon footprint as well as damaging affects to the local environment. This can overshadow the environmental cost of transportation, which does have a carbon footprint, but substantially less environmental degradation as a result of hazardous chemicals being introduced into the environment. 3) Locally produced seed oil, and then 4) domestically produced seed oil. Overall, biodiesel is a huge step forward from petroleum based fuels. The fact that it reduces harmful outputs into the environment and utilizes a renewable resource makes it a much more sustainable product for future generations. However, there are still impacts from its use and the best way to mitigate those is to manage our use of it and where we source it from.

Works Cited

Joshua Clements, Personal Communication Marketing Manager, Whole Energy (360) 410-9398

Charlie Meyer, Personal Communication Island Petroleum Services (360) 378-4430

Todd Shuster, Personal Communication Gato Verde Adventure Sailing, owner and captain (360)220-3215

The National Biodiesel Board. The Official Site of the National Biodiesel Board. “faqs.” Oct 18, 2007. <>.