Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Reality of B100 Pricing in Northern California

As President of the San Francisco Biofuels Co-op, I am often asked, why is the price of biodiesel so high and why have prices stayed high after the introduction of the federal excise tax credits.

The short answer is supply and demand. Demand for biodiesel has increased greatly over the last year. Supply, while increasing rapidly, has not increased rapidly enough to keep up with demand. Northern California fits this profile, but has the added complication of lack of local production. All of our biodiesel has to be brought in via truck or railcar, which further increases the price.

Here is the current pricing breakdown:

SFBC Fuel Pricing

Wholesale Price to Our Local B99.9 Fuel Distributor $ 2.855

California Diesel Fuel Tax $ 0.180

California Sales Tax (8.5% of price not including CA diesel fuel tax) $ 0.291

Federal Excise Tax $ 0.244

Less, IRS Tax Credit $ (0.500)

Total $ 3.070

Price to SF Biofuels $ 3.450

Distributors Margin $ 0.380

SF Biofuels Mark-up $ 0.150

Sweat Equity Price $ 3.600

SF Biofuels additional Non-sweat equity mark-up $ 0.250

Non-Sweat Price $ 3.850

Friday, October 07, 2005

CCC Bioenergy Program Credits

I see a lot of biodiesel business plans and unfortunately far too many of them are still including the CCC credits in their financial models. In the interest of clearing things up, here is the lowdown on the disappearing CCC credits.

The following is a recent press release I put out on the topic. Following the press release is more background on the CCC program.


Sigma Capital Rings Alarm on Potential Disruption to Biodiesel Industry.

The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Bioenergy Program has been a key enabling factor for the infant biodiesel industry. The CCC biofuels program has provided up to $0.90 per gallon to biodiesel producers recently. These CCC funds are likely to shrink substantially this year and are scheduled to disappear altogether at the end of the 2006 Federal fiscal year (August 31, 2006). The loss of this financial support from the Federal government could have devastating effects for the biodiesel industry, just as the industry is gaining momentum.

The funding available for the Bioenergy Program for 2006 fiscal year (which began Sept.1st) could be as little as $25.5 million, a dramatic reduction from previous years. In the 2003 and 2004, the Bioenergy Program provided $150 million to the biodiesel and ethanol industries to reduce the cost of feedstock. In the 2005 fiscal year, the program provided $100 million. The appropriation for the 2006 fiscal year has not been finalized, but will likely be between $60 million and $100 million. Unfortunately, the program ran up a $34.5 million deficit in prior years and this deficit will need to be repaid from the 2006 fiscal year appropriation. In other words, if the appropriation is $60 million, after the $34.5 million deficit is repaid, only $25.5 million will be available for all of the 2006 fiscal year.

To make matters worse, the program expires at the end of the 2006 fiscal year. This vast reduction in the amount of money available coincides with the greatest growth the biodiesel industry has ever seen in the United States creating a perfect storm: increased claims, lower appropriation, and a program deficit, all of which will contribute to greatly reduced payments to biodiesel producers.

But wait a minute you say, what about the biodiesel excise tax credits, which provide for up to $1.00 per gallon? Good question, but unfortunately, those credits are only available to a biodiesel “blender,” which in the majority of cases, is the petroleum company distributing the biodiesel. Accordingly, the biodiesel producers are not seeing any direct benefit from these credits.

The loss of the CCC Bioenergy Program payments may seem okay now, with diesel prices at historic highs. But if diesel prices come down, as is likely, biodiesel producers could quickly find themselves in a financial crunch as feedstock costs continue to rise and biodiesel excise tax credits are absorbed by petroleum distributors. Blenders, with little risk, are getting the full benefit of the biodiesel excise tax credits, while producers, with large capital investments and long paybacks, are shouldering all the risk.

“We are very concerned about the loss of this important revenue stream” said Eric Bowen, Sigma Capital’s Vice President, Energy and Director, Biofuels. “The CCC Bioenergy Program has been the principal Federal program directly benefiting biodiesel producers. The loss of the CCC Bioenergy Program has the potential to have a significant adverse impact on the supply of biodiesel in the United States and will make financing new biodiesel plants more difficult".

“If you are an existing biodiesel producer and your business model is dependant on the CCC credit, we would recommend you develop alternatives to offset this potential loss of credit with new revenue sources or cost reductions ” said Bruce Woodry, Sigma Capital’s CEO. Mr. Woodry continued “As a result of the disappearing CCC Bioenergy credits, sharpened business models and astute financial structuring for proposed biodiesel plants will assure investment grade returns are delivered and funding can be raised in this highly competitive financial marketplace.”

“Catastrophes like Katrina highlight the value and importance of a diversified fuel source, and programs such as the CCC Bioenergy Program are instrumental in creating a level playing field for new entrants. The CCC Bioenergy Program enables biodiesel to come to market at a reasonable price point regardless of the price of petroleum. This in turn assures fuel availability and price stability by have a choice of fuels at the pump should there be a price spike or supply disruption in traditional petroleum fuels” said Anna Halpern-Lande, Principal, Cyrnel, LLC, a California based biodiesel consulting company.

About Cyrnel, LLC:

Cyrnel, LLC is a consulting firm specializing in go-to-market and market development strategies and execution for renewable energy and clean technology companies. For more information, please contact Anna Halpern-Lande, Telephone: (916) 265-0206, Email: or Web:

About Sigma Capital:

Sigma Capital Group is a ten-year-old boutique investment bank located in Raleigh, North Carolina, adjacent to Research Triangle Park that has built a strong reputation for improving shareholder value through corporate development activities. Sigma Capital Group provides advisory and representational services to clients in the Energy, Real Estate/Destination Resorts, Telecommunications & Information Technology sectors with transaction values in the $5M to $200M range.


Here is some additional information for those desiring more background on the CCC program.

Commodity Credit Corporation Payments

The Bioenergy Program was adopted to help expand industrial consumption of agricultural commodities by promoting their use in the production of biofuels. As such, payments are based on input commodity prices rather than biodiesel output prices. The program began in 2001 as a two-year program, and was extended through 2006 in the 2002 Farm Bill. It is not clear as of this time if the program will be extended beyond the end of 2006. The National Biodiesel Board has made extending the Bioenergy Program a top priority.

Program payments for biodiesel producers have historically been divided into two sections, payments for base biodiesel production (base equals the prior year's production) and payments for increased production (production beyond last year's production). Beginning with the 2006 fiscal year (October 1, 2005), payments for base biodiesel production are no longer available.

The maximum amount of money that may be disbursed through the Bioenergy Program in any given year is $150 million. The $150 million is shared by both the biodiesel and ethanol industry.

$150 million was appropriated for each of the 2003 and 2004 fiscal years. $100 million was appropriated for the 2005 fiscal year. Appropriation for the 2006 fiscal year will not occur until later this year, likely November. The Bioenergy appropriation is part of the larger agriculture appropriation. CCC staff believes that the 2006 appropriation could be as little as $60 million and that it is unlikely to be greater than $100 million. To make matters worse, the 2006 appropriation will have to cover a deficit of $34.5 million from prior years. Accordingly, if $60 million were appropriated, after subtracting the $34.5 million deficit, only $25.5 million would be available for the 2006 fiscal year.

A biodiesel producer must apply in August of the prior year to qualify for payments in the current fiscal year. Accordingly, a new producer can only qualify for the 2006 fiscal year if they applied in August of this year. No new applications can be made.

Program payments for biodiesel are calculated as follows: the number of gallons of increased production is divided by 1.4, the result of which is divided by the feedstock conversion factor (2.5 for a bushel of soybean), the result of which is multiplied by the USDA posted county price for the commodity. For example, 1 gal. of increased production of soybean biodiesel would be calculated as follows:

1 / 1.4 / 2.5 * $6.20 (soybean bushel price) = $1.77143

According to Bob Brown at the CCC, the credit for recycled cooking oil, yellow grease and animal fat feedstocks is equal to approximately 40% to 65% of the soy oil payments, or $0.71 to $1.15 based on the above example. The CCC calculates the percentage as follows (San Joaquin Valley yellow grease example): Jacobson yellow grease price (San Joaquin Valley) $0.145 / $0.2592 (price of soy oil - USDA crush report) equals 55.9%.

For the last several years of the program, there have been more biodiesel and ethanol producers applying for the credit than funds available. Accordingly, payments for all program participants are pro-rated. The pro-ration for the second quarter of 2005 was 50.1% and the pro-ration for the first quarter of 2005 was 39.6%. Accordingly, for the soybean example above, the second quarter of 2005 per gallon payment would be reduced from $1.77143 to $0.88749.

The value of the CCC credits will almost certainly be substantially less in 2006 as a result of significantly less money being available in the program (as little as $25.5 million versus 2005’s $100 million), and the large amount of additional ethanol and biodiesel capacity coming online, both of which will resulting in increased pro-ration.

As previously stated, without an extension, the program terminates at the end of the 2006 fiscal year, August 31, 2006.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Importance of ADM’s Formal Entrance into the United States Biodiesel Market

As I have written elsewhere, the US biodiesel industry is going through its first sea change. The industry has largely been characterized to date by smaller production facilities built on custom technology. The typical biodiesel plant was owned by soybean farmers and built on first of its kind biodiesel processor technology. With the introduction of excise tax credits in the 2004 JOBS Bill, and the persistent high price of petroleum, the biodiesel industry has seen a lot of interest recently. Private investors and larger public companies are investing in biodiesel plants, which is pushing the industry towards larger production facilities built on the best technologies available from outside companies. ADM's announcement of its plans to build a 50 million gallon per year biodiesel production facility in North Dakota ( is further evidence of this trend.

In order to be successful in today's biodiesel industry, great care must be taken to select appropriate biodiesel processor technology and to secure a source of reliable and reasonably priced feedstock. This will enable market entrants to compete effectively with the high quality, high volume biodiesel product that the market is moving towards.

As Cargill, and now ADM, move into biodiesel production, competition for the primary US biodiesel feedstock, virgin soybean oil, will increase. I think it goes without saying that these companies will prioritize supplying their plants over independent plants. Plan accordingly.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Introduction Part II: A Bit About Me.

I am a biodiesel professional, consumer, and advocate. Since spring of this year I have been at Sigma Capital ( as Vice President, Energy and Director, Biofuels. With the recent explosive growth in the biodiesel industry, pretty much all of my time has been spent on biodiesel deals. I also serve as the President of the San Francisco Biofuels Cooperative (SF Biofuels, ), an all volunteer buyer’s co-op. I was one of the founding members of the co-op and helped incorporate the co-op as a California Consumers Cooperative Corporation earlier this year.

Following the incorporation of SF Biofuels, I was approached by several of the San Francisco Bay Area biodiesel cooperatives for assistance in helping them incorporate as well. As part of my small legal practice, I agreed to help these co-op's on a substantially reduced fee basis because I felt it was the right thing to do. I have now assisted the SoCo Biodiesel Co-op in Sonoma County, the Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley and most recently, the biodiesel co-op in Pacifica, CA. It has been a pleasure assisting these pioneers move biodiesel forwarded in their communities.

Prior to this biodiesel adventure, I was an attorney at Heller Ehrman/Venture Law Group ( in Silicon Valley where I practiced corporate and security law for five years. My specialty was working with high-tech startups, helping raise venture capital, executing mergers and acquisitions and facilitating IPOs.

Everyone has their “how I came to biodiesel story.” For what it is worth, here's mine.

After graduating from law school, my then girlfriend and now wife and I spent six months traveling around the world. A good portion of that time was spent visiting her family in Italy. Any time we took the family Vovlo, which had been converted to compressed natural gas, on the Italian autostrata we were inevitably passed by several cars traveling at extraordinary speed, Italian style. A good portion of those cars were Audi TDIs. I had never seen a diesel such as this before in my life.

When I returned home and the old beat-up Volvo I had been driving since law school died, I found myself in the market for a new vehicle. Remembering all the diesels I had seen in Europe, I found myself a Volkswagen Passat TDI. (Little did I know just how lucky I was to find a TDI. If I were looking today, it would be almost impossible. California currently does not allow the sale of new passenger diesels and used ones are very hard to find as demand for cars that can run on biodiesel has gone through the roof.)

About a year later, as I was driving around, I heard about biodiesel on NPR. I have always been an NPR junkie. I believe it was All Things Considered. What I am certain of is that I learned about biodiesel because a gentleman from Seattle took the time to call the comment line and leave a message regarding a program that had run earlier in the week about diesel school buses and their detrimental health effect on children. The caller mentioned that he had been running clean-burning biodiesel in his Mercedes for some time and that he felt the story fell short by not mentioning that biodiesel use in school buses was a way to immediately improve the health of our children. I am forever in debt to this gentleman who I will probably never know.

When I got home I googled "biodiesel" and found an entire world that I did not know existed. I did what I could to educate myself on the various web sites and boards. Having made the decision that I wanted to try biodiesel in my car I looked for support in my local community. At that time, San Francisco was fortunate to be one of the few cities in the country that had a publicly available B100 pump. We were fortunate because Randall VonWedell of CytoCulture ( had taken the initiative to write a grant and work with a gas station owner to put the pump in. The pump was the first such pump in the continental United States ( Thank you Randall!

I sent in my money and application to CytoCulture for my card lock. I received back their new member packet, which included lots of cautionary information, including a recommendation to flush your fuel tank prior to using biodiesel. I spoke to my mechanic about this and it was going to be rather expensive. Actually, they thought it would be cheaper to buy a new fuel tank than have my existing fuel tank flushed. Not sure what to do, I called the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective (, whose web site had been a great help when I was initially learning about biodiesel. Unfortunately, I cannot recall who I spoke to that day, but they were wonderful and very generous with their time and knowledge. They informed me that the advice was right, but very cautious, and that I would likely be okay not flushing out my fuel tank so long as I monitored my fuel filter and was prepared to change it should it clog. Again, I will forever be indebted to their kind and generous advice.

I was now ready to go. I went down to the Olympian station on 3rd St. and filled up my car. The change was immediately noticeable. The engine was quieter and the exhaust had the now familiar smell of french fries or popcorn (it was soy-based B100). I have never turned back. I love biodiesel! This is a fuel that has changed the course of my life.

Introduction: Why the Blog?

It is my belief that the biodiesel industry will benefit from the open sharing of knowledge. I started this blog in furtherance of that goal. I hope that the information I share on this blog will be useful to the reader and will help accelerate the growth of this crucially important emerging industry. It goes without saying that the United States is in desperate need of domestically produced, clean, renewable fuels. We are a transportation dependent society, and we need appropriate fuels for our transportation needs. I can think of no fuel better positioned to fill this need than biodiesel. That said, biodiesel is not a silver bullet. Rather, biodiesel is a partial solution to an enormous and complex problem that will ultimately require a multiple, or poly, fuel solution. Fuels like ethanol, electricity, and hopefully someday hydrogen made from renewable sources, all contributing.

Why do I believe sharing knowledge is a key to industry growth?

I am a product of the west coast and particularly Northern California. I had the good fortune to work at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma and at Venture Law Group in Silicon Valley. Wine and high tech are two of California’s most important industries. They achieved this status by becoming centers of excellence. The community of people that made up those industries in the early years did not see each other as competitors, but rather as partners with the same goal of growing their emerging industry. They were not interesting is fighting over a small pie. They chose to work together to grow the pie for themselves and for all those who would come after them, thus creating the centers of excellence in Northern California wine and high tech that we know today.

It is not clear to me that the biodiesel industry shares this ethos. I often run into people in the biodiesel industry who are very defensive, reluctant to share their knowledge, and hostile. This does not serve those individuals well, nor does it serve the industry well. Somehow they feel threatened that if they share what they know that they will be harmed. Exactly the opposite is true, by not sharing, they harm themselves. Unfortunately, they harm the rest us as well.

This blog will attempt to be an antidote to such information hoarders and non-cooperators. With this blog, I will attempt in my own little way to foster an environment of trust and sharing. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Your fellow biodiesel traveler,