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Firm Pumps Up The Benefits Of Biodiesel

Firm Pumps Up The Benefits Of Biodiesel

ENTERPRISE: Energy





American Bio-Fuels President Bill Wason worked in community development , until the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Since then, Wason has focused on environmental consulting and alternative fuels that replace crude oil.

BY RENE’E BEASLEY JONES

Staff Writer

The Exxon Valdez oil spill changed the direction of Bill Wason’s career.

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Wason worked as a consultant for nonprofit fishing groups in Port Graham, Alaska, 13 years ago, when the 987-foot oil tanker ran aground on the Bligh Reef. The ship spewed 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.

The accident not only sullied shorelines and killed wildlife; some of Wason’s economic development projects in villages along the western coast of Alaska died, too.

After that, he turned his business prowess toward environmental consulting , at one time owning a Virginia firm called Environmental Solutions , and green-fuel alternatives.

Now, he’s president of San Diego-based American Bio-Fuels LLC, a year-old firm that makes biodiesel out of soybean oil.

When it burns, some say biodiesel exhaust smells like a batch of french fries sizzling in the vat. And had the Valdez been transporting biodiesel, Wason said, the end result would have been different.

Biodiesel is biodegradable, melting like sugar, he said.

Venture capital from a combination of individuals and small companies funded American Bio-Fuels, which formed in June 2001.

Its $1.6 million Adelanto, Calif., production facility can make 2.4 million gallons of biodiesel a year. Expansion may soon jump that figure to 5 million, Wason said.

The company is looking at another plant site in the Central Valley. No location has been announced. But once the proposed facility is operating, the company could pump out 15 million gallons of biodiesel a year, Wason said.

Although the company isn’t making money off biodiesel yet, he estimates first-year sales will be $15 million.

“Our target market in the near future is Sacramento and San Joaquin Air Quality Management Districts,” Wason said.

They offer an annual 80 million gallon diesel market, he said. He figures that translates into a 20 million gallon market for biodiesel.

Sacramento and San Joaquin have failed to meet air quality standards for nitrous oxide emissions, Wason said. American Bio-Fuels’ brand of biodiesel , with an additive called Viscon , reduces nitrous oxide emissions between 20 and 40 percent, he said.

American Bio-Fuels is paying $250,000 for tests to qualify for a California Air Resources Board verification of emission reductions. Wason expects test results this month.

If American Bio-Fuels earns certification on reductions of nitrous oxide, the company may be able to tap state funding in nonattainment districts to make its pump price comparable to petro-based diesel. Also, most air quality districts receive vehicle registration surcharge money to subsidize the cost of alternative fuels.

In a B20 blend , 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petro-diesel , biodiesel costs about 10 cents per gallon more than regular diesel, Wason said. The additive adds another 3 cents.

He’s banking on state incentive money to make the price competitive. But American Bio-Fuels’ additive provides another perk, he said. Wason claims the additive improves fuel efficiency 10 to 20 percent.

“You can’t make a huge difference in air quality quickly by new engines replacing old ones,” said Tim Taylor, manager of the mobile source division for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality District.

Many older, less-efficient diesel trucks and other forms of heavy equipment continue to operate, he said. Hefty price tags often prohibit owners from replacing them with more efficient models.

“They are a huge backbone, underlying part of our economy,” Taylor said. “A lot of what keeps the economy moving depends on diesel equipment.”

Fleet owners aren’t chomping at the bit to try alternative fuels either, Taylor said.

They know petro-diesel works. They don’t want complications, and they fear renewable fuel blends may cause disruptions in service or problems with longevity, he said.

“Change is risk,” he said. “That’s the biggest challenge to cleaning up our air.”

Taylor applauds Wason and American Bio-Fuels. “(Wason) has some real interesting ideas I would love to see happen.”

Much depends on the company’s pending test results, Taylor said. Without verification of emission reductions, “all they are is talk.”

According to officials with the state Air Resources Board, the verification program started in January 2001. Since then, only one firm has completed the process. It earned emission reduction verification.

Two more companies have submitted letters of intent to enter the verification process, CARB officials said. Testing can take up to six months.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, more than 100 major fleets in the nation have started biodiesel programs since 1999. They include the U.S. Postal Service, the Air Force, and the Department of Energy.

States such as Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey also switched fleets to biodiesel, the association reports.

North Carolina-based Duke Energy, which operates the South Bay Power Plant for the San Diego Unified Port District, is among utility companies now using alternative fuels in some fleet vehicles. Company spokesman Pat Mullen said Duke converted a fleet of 35 Ford Tauruses to run on biodiesel.

The cars use renewable fuels to help out the environment during the Southeast’s “ozone season,” which is May 1 through Sept. 31, Mullen said.

Duke Energy is looking at options to increase the program, he said.

Locally, American Bio-Fuels recently entered into a three-year contract to supply biodiesel to the San Diego Maritime Museum. The company offered the fuel for $1.50 a gallon, which is cheaper than the cost to make it, Wason said.

Ray Ashley, the museum’s executive director, said the Pilot, a recently restored 1914 boat once used to take harbor pilots out to larger vessels entering or leaving the bay, will use the biodiesel.

Running a green fuel in the Pilot is a good fit, Ashley said. About 100 days a year, the boat will operate as a floating classroom, teaching lessons about the bay’s environmental history.

The boat has one diesel engine that burns 1 & #733; to 2 gallons an hour.

“We hope (biodiesel) catches on,” Ashley said. “If there’s a renewable source of fuel, our dependence on foreign oil wouldn’t drive American policy. Oil spills would be less negative in their implications. We would only be better off if this type of fuel was readily available.”

American Bio-Fuels

Founded: June 2001

President: Bill Wason

Employees: Eight

Headquarters: 402 W. Broadway, 4th floor

Business: Manufactures and sells biodiesel from soybean oil. The company may eventually switch to recycled vegetable oil.

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