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More Celebrity Biodiesel
Jeremy Faludi, 3 Feb 05

We’ve already mentioned Willie Nelson’s brand of biodiesel, but it appears another celebrity is getting into the act: As Wired reported yesterday, Daryl Hannah has been working with the organization Grassolean, which helps people start up biodiesel gas stations across the country. This is also a more laudable effort than Nelson’s, because his is slightly misleading—the benefits of biodiesel posted on his site quote numbers for 100% biodiesel use, while the product he’s actually selling is only 20% biodiesel maximum.

The important part of the Wired story, however, was to illustrate the tensions between grassroots and agribusiness in the biodiesel world, particularly the use of virgin oils rather than waste-oil as feedstock for the fuel. Agribusiness promotes the former, while the grassroots types push the latter. It is a difficult question, because using virgin oil lacks some of biodiesel’s biggest ecological benefits (recycling waste and getting a better “net energy ratio”), it at least reduces dependence on oil imports, which is a huge national security / geopolitical benefit. The main benefit virgin-biodiesel has is scale: there is not enough waste oil around to scale up to significant nationwide waste-biodiesel production. On the other hand, even virgin-biodiesel could not replace all US oil consumption--the US does not have enough farmland. Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the economics and potential future of biodiesel.

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