Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The dream of homegrown biodiesel

Read this great article from the AP about the dream of becoming more self-sufficient:
The dream is homegrown diesel, and Gov. Christine Gregoire is leading the effort to find out how Washington state can make it come true.

What will it take? Significant acreage in canola, an edible oilseed that grows well in the region but so far is used mostly as a rotator crop to break up the disease cycle in wheat fields. Most biodiesel comes from soybeans, which, unlike canola, must be irrigated in most of the state's farmland.

"There's only about 10,000 acres planted now in our state," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who's leading the effort in the Legislature. "It takes 44,000 acres of canola to get you 5 million gallons of biodiesel."

The state uses a billion gallons of diesel a year, worth between $2 billion and $3 billion. Replacing 20 percent of that fuel with biodiesel - the most common blend - would require 200 million gallons of pure vegetable fuel.

And at nearly $3 a gallon, that's not chicken feed.

But there are obstacles. Washington has plenty of small refineries, but before it can be refined into fuel, canola seed must be crushed and its oil extracted. At this point, the nearest crusher is in Great Falls, Mont.

"I think if we can get a crusher in, we can get farmers to plant canola," Dunshee said. The crusher would likely be in Spokane, Columbia or Lincoln counties. "I think if we finance a crusher that did 5 million gallons - I think initially we'd have to bring in Canadian canola until we got our farmers growing enough."
Governor Gregoire and state legislators should be commended for their efforts and their vision to make Washington State more self-sufficient and energy independent.

They're setting excellent priorities and mapping out sensible goals - just the kind of leadership we like to see. Homegrown biodiesel may be a dream now, but it's not too far out of reach to be pursued. We urge Olympia to keep up the good work and have a strong legislative session in 2006.

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