Burning for biodiesel 

When Janet Grove got a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (turbo diesel injection) wagon for her birthday this spring, the Missoula resident was thrilled. A self-described environmentalist, Grove was delighted that she’d be getting about 45 miles to the gallon in her snappy new car.

“We got it partly because it’s a great driving car, partly for the 40 to 50 miles per gallon, and partly so I could burn biodiesel from SSI and get off the fossil fuels,” says Grove.

But it wasn’t long before she learned that if she filled the tank with the 20-percent biodiesel blend available locally from Sustainable Systems Inc., the Volkswagen warranty covering her car’s fuel system would be voided.

According to Volkswagen, the company recently endorsed the use of B5 biodiesel, a blend of 5-percent vegetable diesel and 95-percent petroleum diesel. A Volkswagen “customer care advocate” confirmed that VW doesn’t have restrictions on biodiesel blends in Europe.

That doesn’t help Grove or other diesel passenger vehicle and truck owners in Missoula. Currently SSI produces only B20 and B100.

“I don’t know what their issue is with higher blends,” says Paul Miller, founder and president of SSI. “Our position is that it’s a comfort zone for them. As they get more comfortable with [biodiesel], their position could change.”

Volkswagen isn’t the only company warning its customers to stay off the B20 blends. Ford won’t do warranty repairs on any vehicle that experiences fuel system problems running on biodiesel, though as far as Bitterroot Motors Technical Service Manager Chuck Pummill knows, there haven’t been any biodiesel-related problems.

“I haven’t really had any yet,” says Pummill. “I’ve had a few people using it, and they are reporting no problems. I think it’s new and everyone is still testing the waters.”

In the meantime, Grove looks forward to the day when she can fill up her Jetta with B20.

“It would be fun to be able to burn biodiesel and sort of give the finger to Saudi Arabia,” she says.

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