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July 29, 2008

Navigating the back roads

Posted: 11:16 PM ET

Our search for biodiesel took us through some California back-roads.


"Let me tell you, CA 49 is a little frightening."

Let me tell you, CA 49 is a little frightening. Its narrow path winds and jackknifes through the mountains outside Yosemite National Park – with the smoke of wildfires looming over the horizon.

We then turn off onto a stretch of aged and cracked pavement called Mount Bullion Cutoff, which made up for the lack of stomach-dropping heights with increased narrowness, potholes designed to swallow
lesser cars, and even tighter twists and turns.

Our trek did bear fruit – we managed to squeeze a few gallons of B100 (100 percent biodiesel) from a small cooperative, giving us a roughly 50/50 blend of dino-diesel to bio.

However it did add more than two hours to our trip time. At one point the Garmin Nuvi 880 navigator we're testing reported our average miles per hour (including Monday's drive into Yosemite) at 38.

So far we've purchased 5 gallons of regular diesel and about 13 gallons of biodiesel since leaving the Bay area. We heard there's a pump in Bakersfield where we hope to fill up tonight.

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Filed under: environment • Road trip

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Franko   July 29th, 2008 11:53 pm ET

Do a candid camera, have Brian, the eco-mechanic, purchase all the cooking oil at a convenience store. Steal from a McDonals waste oil barrel, if arrested, plead eco-warrior, saving planet Earth.

Rich   July 30th, 2008 1:51 am ET

In this warm weather you can get away with running about 50% straight veggie oil in a pinch and have no starting problems. Available in 5 gallon containers in all Costco stores. Good luck and have fun!!

Rusty G.   July 30th, 2008 7:04 am ET

You drove two hours out of your way to buy bio fuel for environmental reasons?

Have we learned nothing from Al Gore's $10,000 electricity bill?

Gene   July 30th, 2008 7:38 am ET

Here's a little something to think about: " A man blew up his garage attempting to make biodiesel from cooking oil at his Northamptonshire home.

It is understood the man regularly made fuel from used cooking oil, which he got from his local Chinese takeaway. "

This is right up their with meth labs in terms of knowhow, and damn fools. I can hardly wait for people in this country to start blowing themselves up cooking up their own fuel, be it biodiesel, ethanol (oh wait, that's already been done back in the 40's makin shine. ), hydrogen, or some other idiot alternative.

How would you feel then Cody? If as a result of your little road trip, some moron decides to cook up his own and blows up his family? Thought about that?

On an economic front, it's all more expensive than gas for one simple reason – standardization. There's not enough of any of these scams to standardize the Nation or the world around a economical fuel source like we have with petroleum. Look at the major mess California has created with all the different summer winter blends! That's a major reason CA gas is so much higher than saner states. Multiply that lack of standardization nation or worldwide, by about 500% if all these alternatives are mandated. And it's not just the fuel itself. The absence of large scale standardized fuels affect the entire infrastructure, vehicles, power plants, even your weed eater. Think about it.

Kobra   July 30th, 2008 8:17 am ET

Is this with or without the assistance of solar power?

Jim   July 30th, 2008 8:20 am ET

This isn't the kind of diesel that runs on used french fry oil is it? I wish I had a job that paid me( or atleast paid for my fuel) to drive across the USA.

Jim   July 30th, 2008 8:26 am ET

I should also say I agree with guy above my first post. There will some moron trying to make the stuff in his house and removing himself from the gene pool.

Gene   July 30th, 2008 8:32 am ET

Also here's your chance to crunch some numbers: According to the latest stats the US did 254.7 billion miles in May. Being generous and saying 25mpg avg. that required well over 10 billion gallons of liquid road fuels(gas, diesel; and does not include jet fuel and heating/power generation, farming, petrochemical, etc.). Figure out how much land, fertilizer, water, etc. would be needed to grow enough stuff to replace that on a monthly basis for the rest of time. Don't forget that weather effects crop yields. And that the "Agro-Revolution" totally depends on fossil fuels for fertilizer, planting/harvesting, transport, etc., etc.

Or how many batteries would be needed (and where the exotic minerals would come from to make them ). And so on.

Some very smart people have already done the numbers, and concluded that "it ain't gonna happen". Your simple minded little trip is doing nothing but holding out false hope to gullible idiots.

Dave   July 30th, 2008 8:33 am ET


Yesterday my 8 year old son just about got himself electrocuted by shoving the ends of a couple of wires into an electrical outlet. Still, I'm not going to quit using electricity, or letting him use electricity.

The process used to refine biodiesel is as safe as many of the processes used to prepare food. How often do you hear about grease fires? There's probably one every day, somewhere, yet we still cook with grease or oil.

Yes, lye is used to break down the more complex compounds in the oil. Yes, lye is a bit hazardous, but far less so than, say, the concentrated chlorine solutions used in swimming pools.

Safety issues aside, small scale production isn't really the answer. The labor is about the same whether you're processing 50 gallons with primitive equipment or 5,000 gallons with commercial equipment, and labor is a huge part of the cost, so there are obvious economies of scale. Also, the byproducts, such as glycerine, are valuable, but only if you have enough to make it worth the effort to market it.

No one is saying biodiesel is going to save the world, but it certainly makes sense in places where you have waste oil and demand. One county here in Florida runs its entire fleet on the stuff.

Michael Lynch   July 30th, 2008 8:43 am ET

If not Bakersfield, try Boron, it's not far away. Find "Mikes" garage (it's not hard, Boron is tiny) and ask the guy for "The best VW mechanic around" – he'll know who you're talking about. That guy (the VW mechanic) makes his own Biodiesel, and helped me and my girlfriend out when we were stuck with a broken down VW Microbus.

Jim   July 30th, 2008 8:51 am ET

Blah Blah Blah,
Give me a Polar Bear sandwich and 350 gallons of real diesel please....

Damn California hippie liberal types..

Gene   July 30th, 2008 9:04 am ET

Dave, I've been studying this issue for quite a few years. I'm not new to the game. Bottom line is that modern civilization ( and our current population and standard of living ) exists because of fossil fuels. Yes, we can use "other stuff" to partially offset the decline in availability of fossil fuels. Emphasis on "Partially". So what does that mean? It means a decline in modern civilization and all that implies. We may be able to slow the rate of decline, but we cannot stop it. Along the way, we will find a few smooth patches of asphalt, but they will become fewer and farther between.

As we go down the "Net Energy Loss" road, some individuals and nations will be able to maintain their current standards of living, economic activity, etc. better than others – for a while. What usually happens as disparities in fundamental needs arise between people and nations? I'll tell you. Wars, thefts, murder, scams, demographic disruptions, political posturing, knee jerk reactions, bankruptcies, depressions, starvation, and on and on. All that ugly stuff you read in the news everyday.

Leon Schierer   July 30th, 2008 9:10 am ET

Since the route appears to be across the northern part of the country. The trip should include a visit to one of the largest and newest Bio Fuel plants, Lake Erie BioFuels ( in North America located on Lake Erie in Erie, PA. This plant produces 45 million gallons of bio diesel each year from soy oils and animal fats.

Marik   July 30th, 2008 9:33 am ET

Gene, you sound like you are against alternative energies, but you offer no valuable alternative to those alternatives, you're just smashing the science projects of the ambitious while not contributing anything yourself. If an oil shortage, or percieved shortage, mixed with a global warming crisis, or a percieved crisis, gets people to develop new ways and means, then so be it, what harm does it do to allow people to innovate? Despite whether global warming is lies or not, the idea has inspired action, and that action appears to be more positive than negative, and I feel it will be even more positive as time goes on. Yes, oil enterprises will crumble, a few corporate kings and petroleum princes may be slain in the process, but it is for the best. If those oil companies were wise, they would have gotten ahead of the crisis game in the first place and been the ones to develop innovation. Since they chose to sit in comfort and neglect taking action, they deserve to fail. Their laziness caused their own downfall.

green4u   July 30th, 2008 9:51 am ET

Be careful if you try to steal from your local Mc Donalds or other food place. They are set up to have their oil collected properly and if there is a major flucuation in the amount of oil they provide they could be fined by their state for possible illegal dumping.

What needs to happen is that these collectors of the oil should then properly prepare it and re-sell it to biodiesel fuel users. That would satisfy the need and disposal of the oil. Pretty soon these resturants are going to have to lock up their used oil.

pc liu   July 30th, 2008 9:54 am ET

Al Gore III rules!!! Diving Toyota Prius on the San Diego freeway at 100MPH. Probably with 3X gas mileage than this bio-diesel truck...

Gene   July 30th, 2008 10:04 am ET

Marik, I'm not against alternatives per se, except in-so-far as they divert attention from the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. This isn't about oil companies. Ask yourself this: What level of population and standard of living (globally) would you be content with? Because that is the determining factor for the level of Net Energy (all types/sources ) required. There are 2 options; Option A, fewer people at a high standard of living, or Option B, more people at a lower standard of living. Choose one. And understand that whichever one you choose will be widely disputed. Fossil Fuels have enabled us to get where we are now. There is no adequate substitute that will permit continuous growth in standard of living and population.

The UN and other official sources state that global population will "stabilize" at around 9.5 billion in the next 40 years or so. Why do you suppose that is? Because of "voluntary birth control"? No, because that is their guess at how many people the planet can support at some undisclosed level of energy poverty.

Bryan   July 30th, 2008 10:30 am ET

What do we think about electric cars coupled with clean nuke, hydro, solar, and wind? It seems to me that internal combustion is a relic of a simple age of simple minds. We can have limitless energy. Of course there is a cost, but nuke is cleaner and more efficient than coal and oil right?

ET   July 30th, 2008 10:33 am ET

I am forced to agree with Marik. Calm yourself Gene, all is not doom and gloom. Here in Minnesota our University is moving forward on working with "pond scum" to generate bio-diesel. We have a young industry in Ethanol that, while admittedly is not dollar-efficient, is well on its way to becoming just that. Our wind farms have been here for decades and have become a principal contender in our future energy plans. And it is hard to ignore the Hydrogen vehicles that are soon to roll off assembly lines complete with the ability to fuel them at your own home safely and conveniently.
Today I can roll into any gas station and select from three different grades of gasoline, two grades of diesel, purchase a tank of propane, fill up my campstove with "white gas", and still be able to afford a soft drink and hot dog. WE WILL ADAPT TO VARIOUS NEW FUELS.
I submit to you instead that this is a very, very exciting time for new business to recognize new opportunities, for our country to take a solid lead in several technologies that we own, and to end an era that was good to us but needs to be retired and respected as a part of our history.
We landed a man on the moon 39 years ago using fuel cells as our principal power source. This challenge is an easy one for us.

Ham   July 30th, 2008 10:37 am ET

Our company switched to bio diesel several months ago.... it's been a terrible ordeal. The bio seems to be cleaning the inside of the tanks... lines, etc. This sounds like a great deal... until it clogs everything. The cost is down a bit for the fuel but our minor maintenance costs have went through the roof. We will be going back to straight diesel soon.... after we pay several thousand dollars to clean out our storage tanks, filters and lines again.

This stuff isn't what it's cracked up to be.

KDH   July 30th, 2008 10:38 am ET

What a great summer road trip! I am following your adventures closely. As far as some of the entries above, get over yourselves. Innovative ideas like this tried by adventurous people are what is going to solve the energy problems. Not arm chair critics who shoot down every idea and wait for big government to save them. The energy of the future will come from many sources depending on your needs. There will be no one end all solution for everybody. These ideas need to be tried and tested and refined.
God's speed Cody and don't listen to the haters!

Shane   July 30th, 2008 10:41 am ET

It blows my mind how incredibly negative and arrogant so many of these posts are. Ya know folks, just because we haven't got a PERFECT answer to the problem of energy doesn't mean we shouldn't try as many different alternatives as possible – part of that trying out process involves trips like the one these guys are on and I applaud them for trying something new in the face of such arrogant, condescending, narrow-minded bulls##t.

The fact that so many of you jerks are saying how much of a waste of time this is and how many different studies you claim to have read (but never cite, not even once) and how ridiculous this whole thing is just proves that these guys are doing something important; anytime you try to do something brave and new you're always gonna wind up stirring up a bunch of petty, narrow-minded simpletons who haven't got the balls or brains to try anything new – thus, why they have enough free time to post (numerous times) on the same blog all day. Good luck morons – hope you like your day job, cuz it's all you'll ever do with your with your pathetic life.

NoRightWingers   July 30th, 2008 10:54 am ET

Driving all over creation to find biodiesel is ludicrous. Biodiesel is not the answer to our energy crisis. It isn't the renewable resource we're told it is. Already, we are transforming crop land to grow corn for ethanol. Are we going to do the same to grow crops suitable for oil for biodiesel? We can't grow enough to meet even a scaled down demand.

Heather   July 30th, 2008 11:02 am ET

For your travels:

Fueling locations in Phoenix area.

Also, I work at ASU in Tempe, and we are developing a large biodiesel plant to use green algae as the source. Hoping to fuel up my old car soon!

Check it out!

Gary   July 30th, 2008 11:06 am ET

I think it's amusing that CNN homepage put your article headline just above the headline "Millions Hungry".

Luke   July 30th, 2008 11:09 am ET


Your company obviously did ZERO research on biodiesel to determine it lubricity and cleaning ability. Are you purchasing Biodiesel or making it? Regardless, unless you've got a contract for feedstock or fuel, you're probably losing money because all of the principal materials used to make biodiesel cost much more than diesel fuel. I'm pretty sure that this ultra low sulfur diesel the US is using now contains up to 5% biodiesel to aid lubrication. Stick with it, the biodiesel will clean out your tanks and fuel lines then you'll be in great shape – till winter.

Jeff   July 30th, 2008 11:14 am ET

Love the posts – if you run into any troubles – feel free to jump on the Lots of scout enthusiasts and more than a few nissan diesel encyclopedias.

Jason Geddes   July 30th, 2008 11:17 am ET

If you get teh chance on the way there or back, you owe it to yourself to stop in Minden Nevada. they have built a LEED convenience store that serves organic food and offers only biodiesel and ethanol blends.

ET   July 30th, 2008 11:22 am ET

Check into the pond-scum (algae) alternative. Seriously. Do your own search on your own terms. It is interesting although not a "magic bullet" but it does free up land for our regular crops.

Larryp   July 30th, 2008 11:48 am ET

On a side note – your fuel milage DECREASE using biodiesel will more than offset any cost saving. I would like to try it, but when I only get 12MPG pulling a 14,000 trailer, I can't afford to 'save' 10 cents a gallon and only get 10MPG.

David Penake   July 30th, 2008 11:53 am ET


Sounds like a great adventure. I do a weekly blog-talk radio show on with Lindsay Leveen (Wed. at Noon PST).

We would be interested in having you visit with us for one of our shows.

I have attached a link for our show archives.

Best regards,
Dave Penake

weheritage   July 30th, 2008 11:57 am ET

There are some exciting things coming out of LA (Lower Alabama). The process of harvesting algae from fish ponds that have been forced out of business by foreign competition as well as vertical algae farms in conjunction with the development of an environmentally friendly process for creating Green Diesel, Green Gas and Green Jet fuel in a matter of minuets where it took nature 4000 years. The process does not use any Methanol, Alcohol, Water or any other chemical to separate the oil from the algae. Several excellent videos at this site:
These explain what Green Diesel, Green Gas and Green Jet fuel is and the difference between BioDiesel and Green Diesel.


Trent   July 30th, 2008 11:59 am ET

This is awesome! What a great way to raise awareness to the feasibility of biofeul while seeing America along the way. Go, man, go!

Fred Evil   July 30th, 2008 12:01 pm ET

Interesting how many people rush to pooh-pooh new technology.

Do they think our vast network of dino-fuel stations appeared overnight? Nope, they were decades in the making.

Don't let a few naysayers stop you from exploring new technologies and possibilities. They may not all pan out, but if one does, those naysayers will be thanking you in spades. For every new useful invention, there are thousands that go awry.

Here's to small minds, they make the smart ones among us look good, and their pocket-books will be ripe for the plucking once you find that needle in the haystack.

Bob Appling   July 30th, 2008 12:33 pm ET

It is at times very frustrating finding biodiesel in California and baffeling. The station in Bakersfield sells B20 only and is located just south of the intersection of 58 and 184, I think it is a Union 76 or Shell station but don't recall exactly. The next nearest is in Santa Barbara and Ventura and there is supposedly a guy selling BD in Apple Valley. There is also a source in Joshua Tree, a private tank located behind a small art studio. Good luck!

Craig   July 30th, 2008 12:33 pm ET

So thats where you've been. I've been sit'n here next to my XenServer playing with open source stuff, wonderin when those Untangle guys are gonna come back in town.

I don't blame you, this is the time for vacation, I am a big biodiesel fan myself. I have a Ford F250 superduty that I fillup at in Campbell, CA. Green is the answer, its recyclable, and its less expensive (eventually).

If you can, try to keep track of the biodiesel/ethanol stations you visit. I'm compiling a list.

Looking forward to working with you.

Dave   July 30th, 2008 12:37 pm ET

Gene and the other negative people here...

Long term, we have three sources of "renewable" energy... the sun (which sometimes generates wind which in turn generates waves), the Moon's gravity pulling on our oceans and generating the tides, and the residual heat energy within the earth. We can either capture our energy from those sources or, and I agree with you here, we can go without, once the cheap and abundant fossil fuels run out.

I also agree biofuels aren't "the" answer, simply because plants really don't do a very good job of capturing solar energy and converting it to a usable form. We're far better off with photovoltaic panels or thermal solar systems generating electricity, and then using that electricity to break down water and produce hydrogen when we need to store some of that energy, or carry it around with us. (We could debate the merits of hydrogen versus the new battery technologies all day long – it's not worth it.)

We have a few decades to figure this stuff out, if we're lucky. The technologies exist today, for the most part. The economics just have to catch up.

Too bad we didn't take Jimmy Carter seriously when he said it was stupid of us to burn all that petroleum. Had we started then, we wouldn't be buying oil today.

DG   July 30th, 2008 12:44 pm ET

I'm glad CNN is covering biodiesel!!! All the major manufacturers are coming out with diesel models in the next few years.

Nic "Scoutman" Hawker   July 30th, 2008 12:49 pm ET

What are you guys planning on doing with the Scout after the trip? My idea of staying green is to recycle old vechicles by keeping them out of the junkyards and keeping them running. I don't add to pollution by having a company manufacture a truck for me. My '77 Scout Traveler gets 17.5 mpg and has more passenger/ cargo space than a new Chevy Tahoe. It still has the original V-8, 4WD and comparable power to most new trucks that are similar in style. My '79 Scout that is currently under restoration is going to get the 3.2 liter 4-cyl and a wild trans and gearing. I am planning on getting 21-23 mpg out of that one. If CNN wants to have your Scout recycled after the trip, send her my direction.

Bob Appling   July 30th, 2008 1:25 pm ET

I look at biodiesel as a way to extend our present mode of transportation until a viable alternative can be developed. In my opinion that alternative will be highly efficient electric powered vehicles, recharged by personal solar systems or solar/hydro/wind generated grid power. When I lived in the northern tier of states almost all businesses, residences, motels, etc. had electrical plugs for block heaters, why couldn't these be used to recharge electric vehicle batteries? It is a pretty simple matter to add credit card meters to these outlets. Why not?

Jack L. Crain   July 30th, 2008 1:45 pm ET

CNN had a previous report about a man in Texas who has been producing biofuel from algea for some time in greenhouses. He seems to be very successful and doing quite well financially. Clearly this is the way to go but why is CNN now questioning the viability of a process that has already proven successful? Are you unaware of the previous report by Anderson Cooper?

Gene   July 30th, 2008 1:53 pm ET

Not negative, Dave and a couple others who wish the realists would just go away. I'm just relatively well educated on the subject. You know what they say. "An optomist is just a pessimist who is not in possesion of all the facts".

At any rate, everyone is still allowed to have an opinion are we not? Free country and all that. I allow the cornucopians to have theirs. Please allow me to have mine.

I do take care to post references, it's up to the reader to follow up on it. BTW, have you seen the CNN special "We were Warned."? and other similar things. Most recently the Wash. Post series – . You'll have to register (free) to read it all and the subsequent episodes, etc. Or navigate thru Google News. Also, feel free to follow up on the references I've made in previous posts in Cody's road trip saga.

I don't really care if anyone changes their minds one way or the other, or believes me or not. I'll die of old age in 20years or so. But there is an old saying: "Wish in one hand and crap in the other, and see which one fills up first".

Don   July 30th, 2008 2:03 pm ET

Commercially produced biodiesel subsituted for petroleum reduced green house gas emission last year by an amount equivalent to removing 700,000 vehicles from the roads. The US biodiesel industry is on track to quadruple this positive impact by 2015. Biodiesle may be a small percentage of our overall fuel usage, but the positive impacts to the environment, economy, and energy security are significant.

If your trek brings you though central Missouri, you should pay a visit to the headquarters of the National Biodiesle Board.

Don Scott
Director of Sustainability

Adelia Ladson   July 30th, 2008 2:16 pm ET

I am a reporter for the Moultrie Observer in Moultrie, Ga. I did a story on a man out of Opelika, Ala., who is gasifying algae into a gasoline and a diesel, as well. Then, he also makes the biodiesel in the "conventional way." I would be interested in what company or organization you were able to procure the algae biodiesel from in Calif. I just want to further my research into this process and who is doing it, especially, since the University of Georgia has looked into it, too.

Gene   July 30th, 2008 2:25 pm ET

PS: For anyone who wishes for yet more references regarding the state of the worlds fossil fuel resources, etc., here's a report from The Hague, Clingendael Institute, July 2008. Please take the time to download and read the full pdf report. .

Matt   July 30th, 2008 2:31 pm ET

He's doing this by filling up on biodiesel, eh? I hear there's a researcher from Auburn University that plans to start his cross country trip next month in a truck that runs on chicken litter and wood chips. Too bad this story is already running. Wood chips and chicken crap sound a little more exciting!

Austin   July 30th, 2008 2:39 pm ET


Your comments seem to indicate that your level of education in the subject area is far lower than you think. The experts who have crunched the numbers have not said bio-fuels are an impossibility. Sure, there isn't enough corn, soy, or canola oil to supply the entire country with biodiesel. Although there is enough to take out a significant chunk. The more promising source of oil for biodiesel production is algae. This would have been clear to you had you had any education on the subject. Algae can grow in land otherwise considered no good for crops, and algae can produce many times the oil output of other crops. Waste oil was never thought to be the main source for biodiesel production. In case you didn't realize, there are already countries running on various levels of alternative fuels. Brazil runs almost entirely on ethanol from sugar cane. Western European countries, especially Germany, are beginning to rely heavily on biodiesel from rapeseed (called canola here). A combination of electric cars and cars running on biofuels could certainly make the United States independent of foreign oil.

As for your belief that human civilization can only be run on fossil fuels, it is simply absurd. All of our energy comes from the sun. Fossil fuels are simply a relatively small amount of energy from the sun stored in the past underground in the form chemical energy. This is energy that was once contained in PLANTS. The very plants that you are saying don't have the energy we need to power America. With a good mixture of solar, wind, nuclear, and bio energy, we can maintain our standard of living into the future.

As for you comments about the dangers of producing biodiesel, they are also absurd. The methanol (or ethanol, propanol, butanol) and sodium hydroxide needed along with the oil to produce biodiesel are very commonly used chemicals and shouldn't be considered especially dangerous. Oil refining is certainly a more dangerous process, and we have done it fairly safely for years.

Also, there are hundreds of biodiesel factories in production around the country already. Each is already producing millions of gallons of biodiesel. If that doesn't prove its viability to you then nothing will.

James in Corona Calif   July 30th, 2008 3:50 pm ET

Austin, your post about/to Gene is brillant...
You beat me on posting a "Gene" reply 🙂

It's too bad that some people like "Gene" think we should all just give up, that nothing will ever work...

Everyone can make a difference...

BTW Gene, I have been making BioDiesel safely for over 3 years...and will never stop. Making BioDiesel isn't dangerous, but like many other things in life, you have to be careful.

Also, I don't think that CNN, Cody, or anyone else here wants to see anyone get hurt making BioDiesel or any other alternative fuel...believe it or not, you can just go get BioDiesel at gas stations without ever having to make it yourself.

In the near future, BioDiesel will be made from Algae...
We will have diesel plug-in hybrids that get 200-300+ mpg...and/or pure electric vehicles when batterys get better...and oil/gas will just be another page in history.

Good luck on your trip really have everyone talking, and thinking of alternative fuels 🙂

Julie   July 30th, 2008 4:03 pm ET

Roswell is fun, the vista is lovely, be sure to visit Carlsbad Caverns on your way.

Gene   July 30th, 2008 4:20 pm ET

Austin, I've never said that making bio-diesel from anything, including algae was scientifically impossible. That's not the issue. The issue is scalability of the alternatives. In the case of algae it would take approx. 15,000 sqmiles of algae farms ( – be sure to followup on the embedded links , and ) to supplant the total amount of transportation fuels we currently use. That does not account for growth. Where will they be sited? Somebody has to buy and sell land for this purpose, pass the environmental requirements, put in the maintenance, processing, and distribution systems and networks, convert most of the transport fleet ( as it currently exists ) to run on it, etc. etc. Think you can do all that in less than 20-50 years? Good luck.

Btw, all the alternatives right now only add up to less than 2% of current usage/need. Which gets back to a previous comment. What level of population/std. of living are you comfortable with? And what are you willing to do to maintain that level?

The fossil fuels we are currently endowed with took approx 400 million years to convert from plants, etc. into what we pump out now. . Laid down over periods known as the Devonian and Mississippian eras.

The current estimate is that we've used up nearly half of that endowment in the last 100 years. I doubt we can grow enough of anything to overcome that kind of lead.

Sunlight is good, but you can't stick a hose in the Sun. You need to have a high level of technology to capture and distribute it. That high technology is intimately tied to fossil fuels, from the mining of the materials needed to manufacture solar panels, to the build-out of additional infrastructure to maintain, store and distribute the resulting electricity. Again, scale is the issue, not the scientific "doability" of it.

Lastly, you don't know anything about me or my beliefs, so please try to refrain from personal attacks.

michael bender   July 30th, 2008 4:30 pm ET

Thank you for doing something that will draw attention the fact that biodiesel can be used in everyday life.
Nix on the naysayers. Biodiesel CAN reduce and eventually eliminate the need for petroleum fuels if we the public can get our elected representatives to do what is best for the country and damn big business. Valcent Industries has a "hanging garden" system that grows alga in a clear, vertically suspended closed loop arrangement. It is in a greenhouse area and the alga can double itself in about four hours. Switching the type of alga introduced can result in gasoline, home heating oil, jet fuel, or diesel. They are all in the form of lipids and can be used normally. Try going to youtube or googling Valcent +alga and you will be stunned at what you can learn in about five minutes.

The CEO, Glenn Kurtz, insists there system on just 10% of New Mexico could supply all the fuel this country needs!!!!

Got to wonder what is the hold up. Lets get this system into operation.

Julie   July 30th, 2008 4:48 pm ET

Gene, you can make a great fertilizer out of coal and other items in your cabinet. Which does not pollute anything, so part of your argument is Swiss, but other than that, what do you propose?

Julie   July 30th, 2008 5:05 pm ET

BTW: What is 'clean nuke'?

ET   July 30th, 2008 5:29 pm ET

Cody good luck on your trip. Your single blog here has opened up the world of algae produced diesel to those that possibly weren't aware of it. Today GM announced more layoffs from their large truck plants, but it took me a month to get my wife her Prius because of the order backlog. Imagine a Prius that ran on biodiesel. Now imagine one million of them. All of a sudden the math on feasability changes dramatically.

gene   July 30th, 2008 6:01 pm ET

Fine i give up.

U guys are right i am just trying to make you think.

Don't take it perfectly

Franko   July 30th, 2008 6:34 pm ET

Algae burgers, fry it up, get your chlorophill at the same time
Onions ,lettuce, tomatoes, mustard on multigrain bun with sesamie seeds.
Sell the recepie to McDonald's ?

I am thinking of a healthier diet, grow to eat and tax free bio-fuel.
My tropical fish are no more, but the tank could make a mini-burger ?

As for Gene of the chaotic catastrophe, eating Local, cannot generalize Global !

Ham   July 30th, 2008 6:37 pm ET

We are buying it. It may get better over time... but for now the maintenance costs are stagering. It was mandated to change for environmental purposes which didn't make the paper (go figure).... but there are significant growing pains. It's no cheaper than regular diesel (we do use low sulfer)... but has caused expense.
Another issue is new vehicles (post 06) will not honor warranty issues if B-20 is used... this is another monster expense. Maintaining two types of fuel instead of one... that and we have specialty vehicles that we can't run B-20 in. Dont get me wrong... I like the idea but it's pretty rough going right now.

ET   July 30th, 2008 7:27 pm ET


You should see if you can hook up with Ham and his crew somewhere along your trip. Sounds like the guy is making an honest attempt and you (like it or not) are going to be a spokesman for this fuel type. Warrantee issues and maintenance expenses are serious issues but my guess is that these are fixable in the short run. And if there are politicians that are mandating Ham's fuel choice then they can sit across the table from our people in Detroit and hammer out a few engineering modifications.

Jason   July 30th, 2008 9:05 pm ET

I think this trip is a bunch of hype over nothing. Allow me to explain:

While I think biodiesel is a great alternative to diesel for the moment, and I am in favor of its continued development, the manner by which you, Cody, are promoting it is EXTREMELY disappointing. You started out your trip with only 1 gallon of biodiesel fuel in your tank? GET REAL! That's like nothing! I, myself, regularly drive on 100% biodiesel, and have done so for over 5 years. This includes taking several longer road trips – all on 100% biodiesel, and this is in an old Mercedes.

So you made it to Bakersfield, CA. And what did you put in your vehicle? Only B-20. What's the deal here? Why are you NOT running 100% biodiesel? Why have you not made any connections with other biodiesel producers and distributors so that you could have a constant supply of B-100 for your entire trip? Talk about a let down. This isn't much of a real biodiesel promotional tour. Very disappointing.

Gene   July 30th, 2008 9:14 pm ET

Julie, I don't propose anything. I'm simply raising issues of scalability that no one else wants to think about. We're not talking about fertilizing my backyard garden. I have plenty of O-NPK (Organic fertiliser ) for that.

But you can't support industrial level agriculture on totally organic fertilizer. That's why we import millions of tons of potash, nitrogen, ammonia and other I-NPK products every year – . Those kinds of industrial fertilizers are manufactured (Nitrogen and Ammonia from Nat. Gas via the Haber-Bosch process ) or mined in the case of Potash and some others. As I've said several times, what level of population and standard of living (per capita ) are you comfortable with (globally )? Because if the alternative sources of energy are not scalable and economically available to the those that need them, then people will be left behind. Do you want to decide who gets left behind in the energy race? I don't. But I assure you that someone will make those decisions, and that a lot of people will be left without. Just as we have today.

There are only around 1.5 billion people out of 6.7 billion who enjoy anywhere close to the American/European middle class standard of living. There are that many who don't have access to electricity at all, let alone anything beyond that. Try to picture the net energy requirements for 9.5 billion people all living at our American middle class level in 40 years or so. Then tell me how to do it.

I've not see any data yet that shows me we can scale these alternative energy technologies to anywhere close to what's needed (globally, not just the USA ). The most common estimate is that they will top out at around 25% of current needs 40 years from now. If someone cares to point me to a reliable source that says different I'd be glad to read all about it.

Gene   July 30th, 2008 10:23 pm ET

Also, the UN has some interesting data about population, energy use per capita, fertilizer use, etc. . Down load and study the 2 wall charts for Urban and Rural Population, Development and the Environment (PDF's ) . I'm not a big fan of the UN, but the data they provide in things like this is probably pretty close to reality.

Jason Rose   July 30th, 2008 10:25 pm ET

If you travel through San Antonio TX, call Alamo Biodiesel they can fuel you with B100. There website is

Franko   July 31st, 2008 12:11 am ET

Some perspective with a biofuel calculator

But with greater population density, increased efficiency.
Everything recycled, throw it all back into the organic pond.

Sqeeze the algae for the oil, eat the remains or throw back in.
Closed fertilizer loop, a miniature spacehip Earth.

Gene   July 31st, 2008 8:54 am ET

Franko, thanks for the link. I read thru it, including the articles on the front page. I'm familiar with Khosla, and a couple others as well. Didn't see anything new, and only the same claims for scalability. But no hard data. To the contrary, all of the authors admitted that the problems of scaling up , managing, financing, logistics, and other issues were huge, but they have "faith" that all these problems can be surmounted. Where have I heard that one before? I wish them luck, but I won't be sending them any money.

To date the total contribution of biofuels is less than .4% . 4/10's of 1%. They have a very long way to go. I thought Louis Strydoms analysis was excellent, and informative in hilighting the many issue's that are often glossed over by other enthusiasts and entrepreneurs.

Nobody has actually built a successful large scale algae plant. Not even the US Gov't which tried for 10 years back in the 80's & 90's. I won't even comment on the "calculator", other than to say it's far too simplistic to account for the realities of scaling: logistics, secondary and tertiary inputs, etc. Just a toy to play with.

Take look at the UN link I gave upthread and the charts therein. Particularly the rightmost columns that contain the per capita energy usage (in oil equivalent barrels ) and the fertiliser usage per km2. These are highly correlated to the standard of living for a given country. They tell a story.

tb2   July 31st, 2008 9:56 am ET

For more real discussion of, and locations to buy, biodiesel, visit the forums at

ET   July 31st, 2008 12:14 pm ET


First off I admire your candor and views on this difficult problem facing our country. I look forward to your future comments and you definitely have done some homework in this category.

As a lifetime retailer and marketer, my view of this is significantly different from yours. And here are my reasons why:

(1) when fuel went from $2 a gallon to $4 plus a gallon the world and the market suddenly changed. Statistics, studies, and conclusions from the eighties, nineties and even 2007 are null and void.

(2) in my business, sometimes you need to leave the computer screen, walk outside, and take a look around. When my wife needs to wait to purchase a fuel efficient Prius while my neighbor tries in vain to sell a used SUV that is a solid market indicator. It really is all about the economy, and every single political commercial is addressing this issue now.

(3) any consumption levels quoted in any study are now obsolete. Our fuel use as a nation has plummeted, even in the last month. It is old and inaccurate data from a day long gone. Our consumer adapts and modifies.

(3) the market will respond. While you quote many studies on the feasability of biofuels, they are based on very, very old technology that is the equivelant of the steam engine compared to the jet engine. THESE PEOPLE THAT INVEST IN NEW TECHNOLOGIES ARE NOT DOING IT TO LOSE MONEY. Investors today are smart and tech savvy. It is time to retire old data.

Again, Gene, I highly respect your very comprehensive study of this subject and I look forward to any future discussions.

Gene   July 31st, 2008 1:17 pm ET

ET, I agree that much of what is available in terms of studies, etc. is outdated or at least in need of reconsideration in light of current energy costs, etc. Even the USGS data that estimates National fossil fuel endowments is sometimes 30 years old. No argument about that. I do watch the current data regarding energy consumption, demand destruction, reallocation of assets, etc. on a nearly daily basis.

What disturbs me, is that often that old obsolete data is also used, deceptively, by those seeking to promote a particular solution solely for financial, or political gain. That knife cuts both ways. Lots of cherry picking going on all around.

I've made reference to "net energy" a couple times, but haven't bothered to elaborate on it. You may be interested in the methodology, so here's a recent short tutorial that discusses the basics.

My basic thrust in all this is to look beyond the borders of this country. We compete for energy (and all other natural resources ) on a global scale, so any solutions must be attainable on a global scale, unless we have decided to write off the rest of the world, which wouldn't be very smart for any number of obvious reasons. We tend to be very parochial in our views I think.

Thanks for the considered response. I'm sure we will talk again.

BTW, I'm aware of the sometimes "tinfoil hat" reputation of the (peak oil and all that controversy ), so tend to be skeptical of quite a bit of what is said there. However, they do serve as a excellent starting point to what's going on around the world energy wise, via the links contained in the daily "Drumbeat" section. That's only one of the many resources available of course.

It's certainly not easy to sort the wheat from the chaff these days, and as has been said: " Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future".
Niels Bohr
Danish physicist (1885 – 1962)

Good day to you, sir, and may your business thrive.

Gene   July 31st, 2008 4:58 pm ET

PS for ET: Re; your retail/marketing background. 🙂 I come from an Engineering background. Retired (early )on a few acres in a small farming community a few years ago, to pursue my hobbies, but previously held a responsible position in Fortune 50 company for about 15 years. Marketing guys are bit strange, IMHO. 😉 And yes, I do enjoy Dilbert. 😀

Franko   August 1st, 2008 1:34 am ET

Scaling, as a miniature model ship in a tank, get useful results.
Biofuel, scaling from little to dominating,, get drowned in the complexity.

The drivers are, the growl in your stomack, and the angle of your dangle.
Add local conditions, average and blend numerous effects, result in percentages.

We need a marketing guy, UN, IPCC, NASA, NOAA, petaflop computers.

Gene   August 1st, 2008 7:51 am ET

Franko, I really enjoy your Zen. I'm not the poet you are, but you are right. Complexity in our non-linear world will swamp a poorly designed ship. Perfect wave resonance. A shame that most people tackling these issues think scaling is a linear problem. Exponential function, feedback and feedfoward loops, upon loops – a tangled web – no predictive ability. Possibly we can see the outer boundaries however.

Franko   August 1st, 2008 2:59 pm ET

Not Schrödinger's cat, unknown location of the soul.
But elephant falling into a black hole, information exists in and out.
Oh No, universe, heaven and hell, stampeeded by infinite elephant herds, black energy, black matter elephant souls ? Collapse to a singular infinity ?

Crysis in theoretical physics.

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This is a pointless expedition, just another reason for satisfying one's craving for internet time. This trip proves nothing, other than the fact that so many people today spend inordinante amounts of time, including their vacation, if that's partly what this is, using Iphones and whatever else is the latest gadgetry to document their travels. Biodiesel, an old Scout? I just happened across this, not really interested, just another internet junky!

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