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With the promise of clean, renewable energy as their battle-cry, entrepreneurs are planning to build as many as 10 biodiesel plants in Eastern Washington. But there’s a problem: One biodiesel refinery already built, near Spokane, is anything but clean. The state says the refinery emits toxic vapors into the air and spills oil into the ground, according to the Seattle Times. The refinery also allegedly creates troublesome wastewater. Biodiesel holds promise as a renewable, crop-based substitute for conventional diesel fuel...

Biodiesel’s Little Catch — Dirty Refineries?

With the promise of clean, renewable energy as their battle-cry, entrepreneurs are planning to build as many as 10 biodiesel plants in Eastern Washington. But there’s a problem: One biodiesel refinery already built, near Spokane, is anything but clean. The state says the refinery emits toxic vapors into the air and spills oil into the ground, according to the Seattle Times. The refinery also allegedly creates troublesome wastewater.

Biodiesel holds promise as a renewable, crop-based substitute for conventional diesel fuel. It’s made from vegetable oil mixed with methanol and, often, lye. The U.S. Department of Energy says that biodiesel is “safe, biodegradable, and reduces serious air pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and air toxics.”

Better than Arab oil, yes?

This squeaky-green image has attracted fans ranging from country star Willie Nelson to pro kayakers, who tour in biodiesel-fueled vehicles. Which is an inspiring thing.

But there just had to be a catch, didn’t there? Even if it’s a little one? Polluting refineries might just be that catch.

About Dan Richardson

Comments

  1. dmorg says:

    The ‘refinery’ mentioned in the article is not at all reflective of the well-conceived large scale efforts that are really going to move-forward. The article takes the foibles of a tiny, poorly executed project and applies them to an entire industry. The article’s headline was very stupid and way off the mark.

    The toxicity and safety risks associated with the BD industry are tiny compared to the health and safety risks involved with petroleum product refining.

  2. Greg Faulkner says:

    I agree with the first post. Any factory that is illmanaged can be filthy and polluting, no matter what the industry. Lets point the finger at this particular biodiesel plant and not biodiesel as an industry.

  3. Think deeper says:

    Did you actually read the press article? The refinery was IN VIOLATION of permits. It is operating illegally. Is that bad? yes. Are all biodiesel refineries bad? no. What about the ones that opperate with all the appropriate permits. They are actually 98% less toxins that come out of those than an oil refinery. Which would you rather? And by the way don’t worry about biodiesel spills. It is just vegetable oil and is biodegradable like sugar. The EPA doesn’t even classify it as a hazardous material.

    Get a life and educate yourself.

  4. Dan says:

    Yes, thanks for the comment. If you’ll read through the archives or keep up with the site, you’d know that we’ve been pretty solidly in favor of biodiesel and alternative fuels.

    But that doesn’t mean we become propagandists for the industry. And read the Seattle Times article. The refinery was in violation not for just spilling a little vegetable oil, but for releasing toxic methanol vapor and operating without a permit. An industry needs to be held responsible for those sorts of things, regardless of how beneficial its end product is.

  5. RickM says:

    Dan wrote: “An industry needs to be held responsible for those sorts of things…” That’s wrong: when these violations become widespread, then you need to evaluate this as an industry trend. But, in this scenario, this is one company operating outside of permissible limits. Your headline is blatantly misleading. It implies the industry is operating within standards that are ‘dirty’ and ‘secrets’. BD plants more often than not receive FONSI (finding of no significant impact) declarations from their environmental impact reports. Just because the Seattle Times wrote it doesn’t make it gospel and doesn’t absolve the author (or spreader) of responsibility for its content.

  6. McGregor O'Looney says:

    Dan

    I’m certainly willing to accept your (sort of) apology. I must take you at your word that you wrote with no ill intent. I merely find you guilty of hyperbole and casual use of the plural form. Perhaps worth enduring for a well-placed stir of the pot.

    All that said, I think you’ve missed the real “catch” to biodiesel, and most other technologies meant to save us from ourselves. The real catch is that, in the long run, they remain unsustainable. Don’t get me wrong, I just bought a fuel-efficient diesel car, in part because I believe biodiesel can help us transition away from petroleum-as-transport-fuel. We need short-term solutions in order to survive to the long term.

    But reality, including mathematics, tells us that we cannot continue to grow the global human population AND maintain our current “standard of living” in defiance of the ecological carrying capacity of our planet. My point, as applied to the biodiesel topic, is that we must look beyond more cars, more roads, more manufacturing, etc. Technology is a valuable tool, but we must apply it to the most critical tasks before us in order to realize its greatest value. Biodiesel is a great idea whose time has come. But let’s be careful not to bask too long in the bright sunshine of today’s small victories, lest we lose sight of the dark stormclouds on tomorrow’s horizon.

    Keep stirring the pot.

  7. Marion says:

    Once more, I’m going to say that I think it is way past time for environmental groups to step to the plate and spend some of the money they take in for research and development instead of being used as a lawyer welfare pot.
    We simply must start looking for ways to get alternative fuels, and so far environmental groups throw every roadblock they can think of in the way. The permit process is so long for almost anything you can think of, and msot if it is studies demanded by some of these groups.
    It is past time to sit back and demand paradise be developed for you and you’ll sue if there is any problem at all.