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“Do you want fries with your fill-up?”
Your answer: “No. Hold the fries but gimme the grease.”
At least, that should be your answer at Missoula’s two Cenex stations, which, by the way, don’t serve fries. But they are the only places in Montana serving biodiesel.
Most Cenex patrons don’t think of their biodiesel as part virgin vegetable oil and part petroleum diesel, but when they fill ‘er up, that’s what they get. (Regular gasoline cars just get ethanol.)
made from vegetable oil is gaining rapid acceptance across the country.
It requires no engine modifications or infrastructure changes. Biodiesel
has been around for at least 10 years in the United States and longer
“But we’re working on it,” says Miller, who hopes his three-year-old company will commercialize its technology and develop an oil-seed biorefinery not too far down the road.
“We are conducting various site analyses and freight logistics — and we are organizing our financing — and eastern Montana’s a good bet because of all the land that’s prime for oil seed production,” he says.
Three years ago Miller and partner Erik Pritchard started a business called Montana Biodiesel. Pritchard was then a UM senior already using biodiesel to fuel his own vehicle, and Miller’s interest, both as a chemist and a farmer’s son, led him to research the topic of agricultural-based fuels.
Their first client was UM. The team converted recycled fryer grease from the University’s food services operation into biodiesel to power a commuter shuttle that runs continuously from an off-campus parking lot to various stops on campus. It’s called the Bio Bus, and it was the brainchild of UM student government. In warm months the bus runs entirely on biodiesel. In colder months, it uses 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.
The UM Bio-Bus was the first student-initiated, university-based, fryer-to-fuel project in the country. It has become a model for similar operations at universities on both coasts and in the Rockies. But Miller, now operating with more partners, a corporate structure and a large network of growers in Montana and the Pacific Northwest, has gotten off the bus, so to speak, and increased his vision to the point he says Sustainable Systems “is poised to go global.”
Biodiesel is a bit more expensive at the pump than ordinary diesel, but if one looks at the larger energy picture, it’s more than worth it, according to Miller and Kyle Stensrud, regional manager of Cenex operations in western Montana.
“Biodiesel performs,” Miller says. “It gives more power, delivers more fuel efficiency and requires less-frequent oil changes because of its increased lubricity.” Plus it’s made in the United States, it’s renewable and sustainable, and, as Stensrud puts it, “Loading stuff in your pickup back there by the tailpipe with the engine running, the odor’s not obnoxious any more. It smells kind of nice.”
Blending just 3,000 gallons of biodiesel a month at present, Sustainable Systems isn’t a threat to the world’s fossil fuel-based economy. But as the world moves more and more toward sustainability — Miller mentions Brazil, China and India — the growth of a sustainable alternative fuel source can only help diversify the economic and energy sources that keep everything running.
“We start here in Montana,” Miller says, “and who knows what’s next?”