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Biofuels producers agree that consumers still don't understand their industry

Agriculture.com Staff 02/09/2007 @ 12:05pm

The results of a Meredith Corporation consumer survey showing weak understanding and support for biofuels were mirrored by a group of leaders in production of those fuels at Successful Farming magazine's Biofuels Forum earlier this week.

A recent survey by the National Biodiesel Board and the Renewable Energy Group showed that 55% of the public hasn't heard of biodiesel.

Part of the explanation for that may be that most cars in the U.S. aren't powered by diesel engines.

"Biodiesel is more the industry fuel for construction, trucking and agriculture," said Bill Neese, director of transportation and logistics for the Renewable Energy Group (REG), one of the nation's largest builders of biodiesel plants that also operates some plants. One of the main owners of REG is West Central Co-op of Ralston, Iowa.

Neil Rich, CEO of Riksch BioFuels LLC, a 10-million gallon biodiesel plant in southeast Iowa, Rich first got interested in biodiesel by using it on his family's farm and in a custom fertilizer application business. He and other business partners then organized the locally-owned biodiesel plant.

Rich said that at current levels of fuel use in the U.S., biofuels cannot completely replace petroleum products. "Renewable fuels cannot meet those expectations," he said.

In Britton, South Dakota, 4-Seasons Cooperative increased its sales of 85% ethanol, or E-85, by about 22,000 gallons in the ten months after the co-op installed a blender pump, said Owen Jones, a farmer and co-op member who was already splash blending a mix of E-85 and E-10 (10% ethanol blends) in his own vehicles.

The blender pump dispenses 20% and 30% blends as well as E-85, and the most popular blend was 30%. Yet, even in a rural area that seems to support ethanol, "47% of our sales are still unleaded gasoline" without ethanol, Jones said.

Jones believes that encouraging higher use of lower concentration blends in the Midwest where ethanol is produced would also alleviate transportation pressures as the ethanol industry grows and struggles to move its product to the East and West Coasts.

Phil Lampert, Executive Director of the national Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, said his group doesn't oppose those blends. It has worked with the auto industry to promote the use of E-85 in flexible-fuel vehicles. But using blends of 20% or 30% ethanol in cars and trucks that aren't designed for it is considered product tampering and a violation of federal law.

Lampert said he hasn't met any "gas cops" but someday "EPA will make an example of somebody and it will cost you $25,000 in fines a day."

Jones said that his co-op's blender pumps are labeled for use by flexible fuel vehicles, which he believes puts the co-op in compliance with the law.

The results of a Meredith Corporation consumer survey showing weak understanding and support for biofuels were mirrored by a group of leaders in production of those fuels at Successful Farming magazine's Biofuels Forum earlier this week.

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