Over a year ago my husband and I appeared in the Chieftain with a story about our efforts to teach people how to make their own diesel fuel out of vegetable oil.
In a nutshell, the process consists of mixing lye and methanol (or ethanol) together and stirring them into the oil. After several hours glycerin (soap) molecules settle to the bottom and the biodiesel can be syphoned off the top and put into any diesel tank. You can read detailed instructions on our Web site, (www.freedomsolutionsnw.org).
Using free fryer grease from local bars and restaurants, our cost is currently 73 cents a gallon, and we have identified better sources of lye and methanol to get the cost down close to 50 cents a gallon.
Although the process is quick, our biggest challenge has been finding the time to make a batch. This summer we will be putting together a larger processor to make it all easier.
We'll continue to do our part to teach the process, but I want to make an appeal to Wallowa County's farmers to start looking into oil crop production, including rapeseed or canola, mustard and sunflower (imagine the tourist draw of sunflower fields!).
Farmers across the Northwest are already trying to figure out how they can get in on the ground floor of this vast, new domestic fuel market. Last summer the Columbia County Farm Bureau completed a $50,000 study on the feasibility of producing oil seed crops in Southeast Washington in the quantities necessary to operate a biodiesel production facility. They have since formed a limited liability corporation and are seeking funding to act on the business plan they developed.
At this time there are seven biofuel-related bills being considered by the Oregon legislature (see www.biofuels4oregon.org), so you can bet this burgeoning industry is going to take off soon.
This week Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture held a meeting on canola production. The announcement said, "Nearly 10 business entities are in some stage of development of biodiesel plants in Oregon that would rely on production of oilseed crops, primarily canola, and will begin contracting with growers in the near future." It goes on to say that most canola production will occur in Eastern Oregon.
I know it's hard to believe there's been a solution as simple as biodiesel sitting right under our noses for over a century. After all, it was Rudolf Diesel's original intent that his engine be fueled with vegetable oils. He was certain this would be a boon to American farm families.
Instead of considering that certain powerful interests didn't want this solution out of the bag, some folks find it easier to think biofuel is just too good to be true.
"Isn't it more expensive than petroleum diesel?" the nay sayers say. "We don't have enough vegetable oil for biofuel to be used on a grand scale," they charge, conveniently forgetting that our government pays farmers not to grow crops.
Well, you have to start somewhere, don't you? I'd go so far as to say it's our duty. It's not just about clean air - though that is a wonderful result.
Rather, making the switch to biofuel is a matter of justice. I don't care what story the Bush administration sells about searching for weapons of mass destruction or spreading democracy in Iraq - America is embroiled in a turf war over oil.
Reducing our dependency on foreign oil would help speed our withdrawal from the Middle East. I know our men and women in the military would support such efforts. They'd certainly rather fuel themselves domestically. In fact, military bases are some of the biggest biodiesel consumers today.
The old call to "sow the seeds of victory" has never been more appropriate. Wallowa County should heed that call now.