Bye bye biofuels 

Missoula’s biodiesel well ran dry this spring, leaving individuals and organizations thirsting for alternative fuels out of options. The supply cut is just one example of recent problems experienced by Missoula sustainable operations.

The trouble started when local Cenex outlets stopped carrying biodiesel this February. Algae from a bad batch of biodiesel acquired last year ruined tanks and pumps, and Cenex halted its biodiesel operation shortly after.

Cenex Regional Manager Kyle Stensrud could not be reached for comment.

Customers remain unsure whether Cenex will ever carry biodiesel again. Nancy Wilson, director of transportation at the University of Montana, which runs biodiesel buses, says she believes Cenex reconsidered distribution of biofuels based on financial losses from the tainted batch. She says the supply cut has had minimal impact on ASUM Transportation’s operations.

“We can run on diesel or biodiesel, but it’s not as sustainable as we would like it,” Wilson says. “We would like to be greener than that and have 20 percent biodiesel.”

State Sen. John Brueggeman, R-Polson, laments the drying-up of biodiesel in Missoula. He’s run biodiesel as often as possible in his Duramax Diesel truck since 2006. Biofuels have become his personal passion.

“I think folks are talking more about it,” Brueggeman says. “It seemed like someone would always be at the B5 pump or the B20 pump at Cenex when I was there, but that’s always just anecdotal evidence. It seemed like there was a healthy market for it.”

The Missoula-based Sustainable Systems LLC hit hard times this spring as well. Once a major local biofuels proponent, the company switched exclusively to food-grade vegetable oil in 2004. The state seized the company’s commodities license earlier this month for not paying safflower growers in Montana and North Dakota for delivered crops. The Montana Department of Agriculture is selling off the company’s assets to make good on those payments.

Brueggeman believes biofuels and vegetable oil were finally developing a foothold in local markets. With the recent problems, sustainability lost valuable ground.

“After what seemed to be a lot of progress toward more acceptance and use of biodiesel, we seem to be backpedaling,” Brueggeman says.
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