Results will be a long time coming, but biodiesel could make a comeback at Missoula pumps. Cenex, which stopped carrying biodiesel this spring after its supplier went out of business, is currently scouting new producers.
Kyle Stensrud, energy division manager for Cenex partner Mountain West Cooperative, says he’s fielded calls from up to 10 biofuels producers from within Montana. None have panned out so far, but last week he spoke with the most promising candidate yet, Earl Fisher Biofuels of Chester. That chat left Stensrud “cautiously optimistic.”
Brett Earl and Logan Fisher, both fourth generation farmers, founded the small-scale biodiesel company in 2006. They operate an oilseed crushing plant with three full-time employees. The plant is built to produce 275,000 gallons a year, and Earl Fisher supplies local farmers and ranchers on a pick-up basis.
“We’re more interested in just getting biodiesel more established in the state and making it more of a common staple as far as fuel is concerned,” Fisher says.
Those aims fit well with Cenex’s ultimate goal of supplying Montana-marketed biodiesel produced with Montana-grown crops. Cenex is motivated to find a biodiesel solution in part because of customers like Nancy Wilson, director of the University of Montana’s transportation department. The campus bus fleet’s use of biofuels is dependent on Missoula stations with existing biodiesel infrastructure. Wilson says her department recently discussed building an on-campus pumping facility, but the project proved too costly. She’s the one who ended up connecting Earl Fisher with Cenex.
According to Stensrud, the missing piece in the puzzle is simply finding a reliable supplier. Cenex already has a ready-made biodiesel infrastructure. Now it’s a question of evaluating fuel grade, testing and supply potential.
“Once we find a supplier, we want to make sure they’re a supplier long-term,” Stensrud says. “We basically had three suppliers in the last seven years, and two of them went out of business…We don’t want to get into the biodiesel and then out of it and then in it and then out of it.”