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December 02, 2005
Biodiesel Business Experiencing a Mini-Boom In Northern New Mexico

Alternative Fuels

Biodiesel Business Experiencing a Mini-Boom In Northern New Mexico

By Eric Mack, 11-15-05

With two busy pumps, several more to come, and a few manufacturers, Northern New Mexico is having a biodiesel mini-boom. I’m not talking about college kids and environmentalists fueling up with used vegetable oil at fast food restaurants and greasy spoons. With two pumps in Santa Fe and more planned in Taos for early 2006, the fuel, which can be used in any diesel engine without modification, is making the transition from novelty uses like the “Veggie Van” to mainstream retail sales.

At the Amigo Mart on the corner of Cerillos and Baca in downtown Santa Fe, you’ll find two islands each dispensing three different types of biofuels, identified by the dry bureaucratic monikers E-10, E-85 and B-20. To translate the jargon, know that ‘E’ stands for ethanol and ‘B’ stands for biodiesel. The proceeding numbers correspond to the percentage of ethanol or biodiesel that is blended with conventional petroleum fuels. In other words, E-10 is ten percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline; E-85 is 85 percent ethanol and is only meant for use in so-called “flex-fuel” engines; B-20 is made up of twenty percent biodiesel and 80 percent regular diesel.

Both ethanol and biodiesel are produced from crushing the oil out of various organic matter. Ethanol is made primarily from corn, while biodiesel can be made from a number of crops, animal fats, even algae. Ethanol has been in use as a gasoline additive for many years, while biodiesel has just recently seen rapid growth in the United States, thanks in part to an EPA tax credit that began last January.

The biodiesel sold at the Amigo Mart is produced by Blue Sun, a Colorado company that began four years ago in a Fort Collins garage. A triple-biofuel pump was installed a year and a half ago with the support of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and Renewable Energy Partners of New Mexico, a non-profit. The demand for biofuels soon warranted the installation of another pump at the Baca Street station, according to Richard Mason, co-founder of Renewable Energy Partners.

“There would be traffic jams of people waiting for the pump, so we installed a second one on a different island, ” said Mason.

His organization partnered with the state to secure grant funding through the Department of Energy’s STEP program to pay for the pump and tank infrastructure. He said the success of the pump has helped pay for the minimal overhead costs of running the non-profit and brought national attention.

“Our pump with the three different biofuels was the first of its kind as far as we know,” Mason said, thumbing an industry magazine that featured the Santa Fe pump. “We were featured in a few national magazines and since then we’ve been approached for assistance in putting these pumps in. We’ve been asked for assistance from both Maine and Washington state.”

At the same time, Renewable Energy Partners and Blue Sun are planning to offer B20 at pumps in Taos early next year.

“It’s still a little confidential, but I can tell you that the first one will be on the north side of town,” said Mason.

That should take some of the pressure off Taos Earthship, which manufacturers biodiesel from local restaurant grease. The sustainable community produces biodiesel in a small-scale operation in Taos mainly for local customers, and there is a waiting list.

Of course, you could always learn to make your own, provided you don’t mind dealing with small amounts of lye, ethanol and over-cooked french fry tailings.

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