Greener pastures?

"Greener pastures?" Continued...

Issue: "Why Grey matters," March 17, 2007

But demand has outpaced such innovations. Seed farmers in Washington state, who supply half of the world's cabbage seeds, are terrified that an influx of rapeseed and its accompanying pollen will destroy their fields. Such concerns have not slowed local politicians, who recently passed a law requiring all fuel suppliers in the state to ensure that biodiesel comprises at least 2 percent of their diesel sales by the end of 2008. The law further stipulates that all state agencies must convert at least 20 percent of their diesel use to biodiesel by the summer of 2009.

Other local and state governments, especially along the West Coast, have passed similar measures, ensuring that biodiesel demand will continue its steep upward climb. Politicians in such environmentally sensitive areas are eager to procure green stamps of approval from constituents who consider "Big Oil" the world's greatest evil. Businesses in those areas stand to benefit from pro-biodiesel stances, too. Accordingly, retailers of the trendy renewable fuel are moving from side streets to Main Street.

Several miles south of Dr. Dan's in the stylish neighborhood of West Seattle, two giant "SoyPower" banners hang prominently from the breezeway roof of a crowded six-pump Safeway gas station. The nation's second-largest grocery chain and operator of more than 300 gas stations nationwide dipped its pinkie toe into the biodiesel market last month. The mega-conglomerate, and a host of other major fuel retailers, will closely monitor the West Seattle station to gauge biodiesel's mainstream appeal.

Sienia Chan, a cashier at Safeway's test station, says she's noticed a slight increase in customer traffic since the biodiesel pumps opened. But she adds that some potential customers have expressed their dissatisfaction with Safeway's choice to sell B20, a diesel blend with only 20 percent biodiesel: "Some people tell me they'd rather go to Ballard where Dr. Dan sells B99."

REG spokesperson Clancy, whose company is supplying Safeway's biodiesel, said the decision to sell B20 widens the potential consumer base. Diesel cars can easily switch back and forth between B20 and petroleum-based diesel without needing to replace fuel filters. And B20 can survive in winter temperatures below 40 degrees without coagulating like a jar of cooking grease in the refrigerator.

Such factors help attract customers like Chris Wu, a 27-year-old anesthesiologist who pulled his 2004 Volkswagen Passat into the Safeway station on a recent morning and began fueling with biodiesel. He'd read about the new station in the local newspaper and decided to give it a try. "I'm not a huge environmentalist, to be honest," he said. "But given the choice, I'd rather go with something more earth friendly." The jury is out on which choice qualifies.


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