Friday, February 06, 2009

What do San Francisco, President Obama, Darryl Hannah, and Melissa Etheridge have in common?

They all appear in another great story from my friend, biodiesel advocate and journelist, Eric Smith.


The world of biodiesel producers, advocates, retailers and scientists,descended on San Francisco this week for the annual 2009 NationalBiodiesel Board Conference and the Sustainable Biodiesel Summit at theMoscone Center.San Francisco is perhaps the largest city in the worldto employ biodiesel in its diesel fleet, including MUNI and the SFFire Department, as well as private companies like the Red and Whitefleet at Fisherman's Wharf and the locomotives of the San FranciscoBay Railroad. With luminaries from around the globe and advocates likeactress Darryl Hannah in attendance, the NBB's executive director Joe Jobe opened the conference and spoke of the many challenges facingthis alternative fuel, including an assault from junk scientists andlobbyists from the petroleum industry.

To showcase San Francisco for the event, Jobe scouted the city severalmonths ago, filming San Francisco's wide array of successful biodieseluses, from the SFPUC's successful Greasecycle, to Berkeley's Biofuel Oasis. What transpired was an unforgettable week of biodieseleducation, networking and the resolve to join together in facing oneof the planet's biggest challenges, our dependance on oil.

"I can't believe they are going sustainable", proclaimed a jubilant Hannah, upon hearing the NBB's adoption of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance's sustainable principles. The grassroot offsprings of theNBB, the SBA and the California Biodiesel Alliance, once languished in"shadow conferences" preceding the traditional NBB meetings. Nolonger. Now these groups have a seat at the table and the NBB and it'senergetic director Jobe have recognized the work of these biodieselpioneers on the front lines. "Make no mistake, we are out manned andout gunned by an extremely well funded petroleum industry who will doanything they can to stop us", says Jobe. "We have science and thefacts are on our side". Indeed, the petroleum industry as well as thegrocery manufacturers have hired an army of lobbyists and marketers tosell the public on the fuel vs. food myth, despite overwhelmingevidence to the contrary.

The City of SF was honored appropriately and a few members of itsbiodiesel community were brought on to the stage by Jobe to begin theconference. Dr. Randall von Wedel of the biodiesel testing labCytoCulture, received the NBB's "Impact" award for his outstandingachievements in biodiesel; MUNI's Marty Mallera, SF Fire Department's Mike Ferry, SF Department of the Environment's Vanadana Bali, and theSFPUC's Karri Ving of the SF Greasecycle program, all helped toconvert the city to biodiesel and make Mayor Gavin Newsom's B20mandate a reality. Panelists during many of the NBB's sessionsincluded Tellurian Biodiesel CEO and SF Biodiesel Access Taskforce Chair Eric Bowen, Community Fuel's Ryan Lamberg, Jennifer Ratke ofBerkeley's Biofuel Oasis and myself as the Director of Green Depot.

This conference had it all; debates on feedstock issues,sustainability, quality, calculating life cycle analysis and indirectland use assessments, the latest diesel vehicles, and saw a showcaseof some of California and the country's best and brightest biodieselpioneers. Ben Jordan, founder of the Biofuels Recycling Cooperativeand architect of the SF Greasecycle, Hawaii's Bob and Kelly King ofPacific Biodiesel, Jeff Plowman and Annie Nelson of the SBA, KumarPlochar of Yokayo Biofuels, Colorado's K. Shain, Dr. Dan Freeman ofSeattle, Rachel Burton of Piedmont Biofuels, Biofuel Oasis co-founderSara Hope Smith of Oregon and Biofuel Station's Kimber Holmes whohosted the weekend's Sustainable Biodiesel Summit. These folks hadworked tirelessly and sacrificed much to see the grassroots biodieselmovement take it's rightful place among the NBB.

Biodiesel Magazine's Ron Kotrba observed in his web column this weekthat "the second of three general sessions was as moving as it wasinformative. The National Biodiesel Board shared the stage withactress Darryl Hannah and singer Melissa Etheridge, who are bothpassionate about using renewable energy and biodiesel. Starting themorning, NBB chairman Ed Hegland said the board's goal is to havebiodiesel make up 5 percent of the national diesel fuel pool by 2015,a plan called 5 x 15. "And we're well on our way there," he said. Thetheme of the day's general session was sustainability, which Heglandcalled the "defining word of our time."

Kotrba also wrote that Hannah, "a familiar face to regulars at theannual biodiesel event, gave a heartfelt talk to the audience about adocumentary she's been working on, regarding sex slaves and theinternational trafficking of minors for the purpose of selling sex.Her moving speech, which wasn't read off a teleprompter but rathercrumpled pieces of paper she held in her hands, went from humantrafficking, to the state of the oceans, to the burning ofrainforests, to the "toxic patchwork" of unsustainable agriculture, tobiodiesel exports. Hannah said she knew a man who lived near a largebiodiesel plant and he was excited to start using it, but couldn'tfind any locally because all of the fuel was being exported out of thecountry. She said a situation like that needs to change; however, Jobehumorously cautioned that her views aren't necessarily the views ofthe NBB."

One of the most moving moments of the conference involved singer Melissa Etheridge, who performed during the conference's secondgeneral session and according to Kotrba, "Gave a spectacularperformance of her song, "If not now, when?" After the song, she toldthe audience the story about her rise to stardom, and once she made itthere, she asked herself, is this it? After years of being a recordingartist, her name being bought and sold from record company to recordcompany – she jokingly said one day she found out unbeknownst to hershe was the property of Seagram's Gin – she felt like there should besomething more. Shortly afterwards, she felt a lump in her breast andshe was diagnosed with breast cancer.Etheridge said after weeks and weeks of chemotherapy, lying in her bedthe whole time because light hurt, sound hurt, she was taken to ahigher place of awareness and understanding; similar to a monk whomeditates himself to supreme enlightenment. "I started to understandwhat we are," she said. Al Gore called her one day, she said, andasked her to "check out his slide show," called "An InconvenientTruth." She eventually wrote the song for that documentary and won anOscar. She then realized that in order to be healthy people, we need ahealthy planet. "I asked myself, `What can I do?'" Later, she ran intoWillie Nelson, who was heavily promoting biodiesel then, and the restis history."

Yesterday saw the closing of the conference and coincided with Mayor Newsom's press conference about a new biofuel collection planinvolving "brown grease", in other words, the waste found in greasetraps. Now even this waste can be turned into biodiesel. The biodieselmovement in San Francisco and California indeed rolls on, however manyreal challenges face this fledgling alternative fuel. There is thecontinuing debate on NOx emissions and how best to combat them; TheCalifornia State Water Board still has issues with the "UST's",otherwise known as underground storage tanks. As of today, only blendsof B5 biodiesel (5% biodiesel, 95% petroleum), are rated to be in themuntil UL, (Underwriters Laboratories), certifies them for higherblends. Meantime, biodiesel distributors are in limbo until atemporary agreement can be reached. The EPA, CARB, the CaliforniaBiodiesel Alliance and the NBB continue to meet with the Water Boardto resolve this issue; The petroleum industry, the grocerymanufacturers and their lobbyists continue to fund "junk" scientiststo try and debunk the benefits of biodiesel and continue theirill-conceived fuel vs. food fight. Lastly, some of the automakers aremaking the 2010 models more difficult to use pure biodiesel by makingthem even more petroleum diesel friendly. If they don't change theirways, many states may act to ban those vehicles from being sold andsend a clear message that all diesel vehicles must continue to be ableto use biodiesel without any potential fuel injection issues.

One thing is clear. In July of 2008, the United States saw its oilsupply reach "peak production". That means from here on out, no matterhow much we drill, or how many new provinces may yet be mined, we havereached our peak. We will never see oil production at those levelsever again. It is projected that the world's peak production,(Including Saudi Arabia, Russia, South America, etc.), could reachpeak production by as early as 2050. Until a new technologies, perhapselectric, can be perfected, the diesel engine is still the world'sbest motor and biodiesel, of all of the of the alternative fuels,continues to have the best energy ratio and sustainability.

President Barack Obama understands this dilemma and has spoken aboutthe need to use more biofuels. We really need to listen and heed hisadvice before it's too late.

Eric "Doc" Smith is the Director of Green Depot, a non-profit thatpromotes the use of biodiesel in communities challenged byenvironmental justice issues. He is also Vice-Chair of the SanFrancisco Biodiesel Access Taskforce and a board member of theBiofuels Recycling Cooperative, architects of the SFPUC's GreasecycleProgram. He drives a 2001 VW Beetle that runs exclusively on biodiesel.

1 comment:

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