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Biodiesel: Policies » Biodiesel is Good

Archive for the ‘Biodiesel: Policies’ category

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The Scariest Repo Man

September 27th, 2012

There is a raging political debate that is consuming the airwaves of late – apparently 4 guys in North Carolina and 3 women in Nevada can’t tell the difference between the presidential candidates positions on…..just about everything (Early on, I was taught to avoid political discussions in new business settings, and I treat these posts as new business settings. I want the readers to evaluate the substance of biodiesel, rather than the ephemeral policy of biodiesel. So, I will attempt to employ objectivity from here on).

One of the “hot buttons” of this Fall’s political debates is the need to address the crazy, unsustainable debt levels that our once triple A rated country is currently carrying. On one side of the economic divide is the group that wants to “grow” us out of debt (this entails ignoring the debt, near-term, and “spurring” growth); on the other side is the group that wants to “cut” us out of debt (this entails a substantial reduction in current government expenditures). The Latter group, in particular, implores us not to leave our children with unsustainable debts that will cripple their chances to meet, let alone, surpass their parents level of success, comfort, happiness, etc.

What’s not to like? I can believe we overspent and we need get our country’s fiscal accounts in order. There is a debt problem and curing it should be a priority. The debate about how to do so, seems reasonable (remember, I’m employing objectivity). However, the debate about our county’s finances and the argument that we are betraying future generations should also be applied to another topic that seems, inexplicably, to have fallen off the the Top Ten Chart of both the Growers and the Cutters. Neither group of “debt fixers” has the audacity to highlight our obvious, dangerous and serially ignored Environmental Balance Sheet. You see, the REAL debt debate we should be having involves our number one creditor, Planet Earth.

Now, I’m not trying to encourage you to rock out with the Grateful Dead and tell you to tread more lightly, recycle and eat more soy. I’m here to tell you that we have not only built an unsustainable debt to the environment, but that we are on a trajectory to grow that debt astronomically, AND NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT IT AS A POLITICAL ISSUE! The stupidity and hypocrisy of ignoring climate change is beyond articulation. For those of us who pay attention to facts (and believe in evolution = critical qualifier), we know that the balance has tipped already. In thirty years, even if we were to magically transition to an all solar economy tomorrow, the planet will be hotter, agricultural regions will migrate, water sheds will change, sea levels will rise and the overall acidity of the ocean will be higher. Geopolitics will be radically different and less stable; today’s naysayers will either have exited stage right or be denying that they were deniers, and later generations will curse our selfish inaction.

You see, the earth’s environmental systems move methodically. Geologic time is radically out of sync with Human time. Battleship Earth has already received her instructions – 400ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere as of May 31st of this year – and nothing we do now will change the impact and direction of the systematic climate change that will occur as a result of today’s 400ppm CO2 “instruction set”. All we can do is try and manage those changes and take steps, now, to bring future GHG emissions down – pay our debts – and change the trajectory of environmental wreckage that follows increases in average global temperatures.

To fix the financial debt problem is important, of course. But to have a debt free nation on a planet that is measurably less livable remains a significant “downgrade” for our children and grandchildren.

Importantly, financial downgrades can be addressed and weathered. GM, that stalwart of CAFE-fighting, market share losing automotive intransigence, has taught us that in the financial world even bankruptcies can be “cured” and cured quickly. Unfortunately, environmental “cures” take a long time and they don’t make exceptions, turn blind eyes or play favorites.

For me, a CEO of an alternative energy company and a father of 3 three future super heroes, this issue is so obvious that I get headaches just reading about the rank stupidity espoused by so called climate change deniers like Jim Inhofe or by Big Oil that sees our salvation as more drilling, cheaper oil and higher CO2ppm counts – REALLY?

If you’ve gotten this far, perhaps the most important advice I can leave with you is to read Bill MckKibbon’s article: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new… Take 20 minutes and read his thoughtful, fact-filled article and then decide to whether or not you think Environmental Issues should be something important to the US and global policy debate.

If we continue to ignore the debt we owe the environment, “little” issues like national solvency will pale in comparison to the actions of Mother Earth’s Repo Man.

Mark J. Roberts
Springboard Biodiesel, LLC
The Cure for Diesel™

341 Huss Drive | Chico, CA 95928 | 530.894.1793 – tel | 530.894.1048 – fax
www.springboardbiodiesel.com | http://twitter.com/springboardB | skype:mjroberts27 | www.biodieselisgood.org

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The Maw of Inconsequence: Evaluating Biodiesel’s Future

September 1st, 2010
CEO of Springboard Biodiesel

CEO of Springboard Biodiesel

I am the CEO of a small cleantech manufacturing company focused on small-scale biodiesel production equipment. Springboard Biodiesel’s equipment is generally considered “best in class”; we manufacture everything in the US and probably source over 80% of our materials and parts from within Butte County in Northern California. Focused as we are on biodiesel, we pay attention to our carbon footprint, and calculate that our 600+ unit installed base has the production capacity to produce over 5MM gallons of ASTM-grade biodiesel (that’s good enough for the US government to allow it to be sold for a profit) and remove over 85MM pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere. It helps that our customers use our products to make ASTM-grade biodiesel for less than the price of diesel.

Manufacturing, cleantech, greenhouse gas reductions, made in the USA: what’s not to like? Unfortunately, everything. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job; I am passionate about our products; I go to work every day knowing that I am engaged in a business that has the ability to benefit a great number of people. However, the process of managing our nation’s voracious energy appetite and weaning even a small percentage of the economy off of petroleum is a battle that we as a society do not yet seem to have the visceral desire to attempt. As a result, the obstacles that face the biodiesel industry are generally artificial, bureaucratic and lobby-money based.

Without an easily “media-fiable” disaster (apparently dumping 190 million gallons of oil into a once productive fishing ground doesn’t pull the heartstrings like it once did), the empirical need to find alternative fuels remains unfelt. The Biodiesel industry is, perhaps, the poster child for our Country’s alternative energy policy of benign neglect. For five (5) consecutive years, the US govt, under the none-too-environmentally-subtle president Bush legislated tax credits that supported a small but rapidly growing commercial biodiesel industry. As a result, over 50,000 jobs were created, billions of dollars were invested in infrastructure, and in 2008 nearly 12 billion pounds of CO2 were kept out of the atmosphere.

In 2010, the tax credit has been allowed to expire, resulting in a dramatically shrunken industry that has shed over 20,000 jobs and sees itself staring into the maw of inconsequence. If you visit the National Biodiesel Board’s website, you will find a pathetic countdown widget updating you on the 243 days, 14 hours and 2 minutes that the industry has been without the necessary legislative support embodied in the biodiesel producer’s credit.

My company has been developing some exciting new products that are aimed at the small-scale local production market. This is an under-covered sub-sector of the biodiesel market (given what I’ve described above, you may worry that almost by definition this area is fruitless), but we believe that both in the US and overseas, we have a compelling market opportunity. With the extension of the tax credit, our financial plan indicates that our planned network of 65 small scale biodiesel production units (we call our unique system the ILP™) will be able to produce almost 20 million gallons of ASTM-grade biodiesel – surely just a pittance in the brobdignagian world of energy extraction, consumption, demand and wealth creation. But hang on, doing the right thing need not cost us an arm and a leg. In fact, while the “cost” of supporting this environmentally friendly fuel will set the US tax payer back $19MM in tax credits over 5 years (in the case of Springboard Biodiesel’s planned production), the returns far exceed the support – economically and socially. By investing in this vital industry, innovative cleantech companies will be allowed to grow and mature, such that the tax credit can expire without condemning the industry to either death or emigration (the rest of the world is far more interested in building a biodiesel economy).

Springboard Biodiesel is a very small company. However, with our product roadmap and a reinstatement of the tax credit, we plan to create 165 new jobs with an estimated cumulative payroll in excess of $12MM. In addition, we will contribute over $10MM in direct taxes, pay local suppliers over $13MM, and our products will keep over 320MM pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere. So roughly $35M of economic returns created for the cost of $19MM. That’s an investment with a double digit return – somewhat of a rarity in this economic environment (it should be noted that this calculation places zero value on our positive environmental impact nor the local “ripple effect” of job creation).

And yet the legislation necessary to support the commercial biodiesel industry continues to stall in the Senate – a dysfunctional house that of late has threatened to succumb to complete “Balkanization”. The formidable lobbying armies of both Big Oil and the US automotive industry view biodiesel as either an unnecessary distraction (oil) or a potential cost (cars). And the average American is informationally overstimulated such that increasingly black and white issues are merely different shades of grey, too difficult to focus on for long periods of time, and certainly not worthy of deeper exploration. In short, the age old newspaper rule still resonates: unless it bleeds, it can’t lead.

So while I wait for the blood – another oil disaster, $100/barrel, some insane conflict in the Middle East – I find myself bouncing between two perspectives: Glass half full and glass half empty. The former is more uplifting, but the latter is gaining momentum as I hear Big Oil executives dismiss biodiesel as “an additive product, not a fuel”, or I see yet another commercial biodiesel plant shutter, or I casually calculate, again, that the US consumes almost $200B of diesel fuel annually and derives the majority of it from foreign countries. Yesterday, I read of the hottest summer on record, again, and I worry that every day activities, conveniences and joys that we have always taken for granted will be missing from my Children’s and my children’s children’s lives.

Bellyaching is all too easy, and unfortunately ignoring the failings of our elected officials is easier than actively working to change the status quo. However, at the end of the day, all we can do is what we believe is right. I believe that substituting biodiesel for diesel is good for every single constituency I can think of. I’ll continue to work towards the commercial success of biodiesel. I encourage all of us to make our preferences known. Be it biodiesel or any other issue. Don’t let the status quo destroy our future. Make alternative energy a voting issue and hold do-nothing-but-squabble-for-the-cameras politicians accountable. The maw of inconsequence is not good for this country or this planet.