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Going for homegrown at the pump

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Jay Bibb of Apex pulled his 2001 black VW Beetle up to the diesel pump at Han-Dee Hugo's BP station near the intersection of Highways 70 and 50 in Garner. His bumper sticker immediately caught the attention of a group of people who were at the station last week for an improbable press conference on alternative fuels.

"BIODIESEL: No War Required," it read.

The July 1 press conference was held to announce the opening of the first public biodiesel pump in the state. Bibb paid $1.49 per gallon for his fill-up at the BP owned by United Energy. The company is benefiting from a federal grant that is supplementing the cost of the fuel, known as B20, which is more expensive to produce than conventional, petroleum-based diesel fuel.

The B20 is a 20 percent blend of biodiesel that is produced by West Central Soy, a farmers' cooperative in Iowa. Biodiesel fuel--even at 100 percent--can be used in any diesel-powered vehicle without requiring engine modifications. Biodiesel is a naturally oxygenated fuel produced from organic feedstocks such as soybeans, cooking oil and animal fats. The end product, B100, which costs about twice as much to produce as conventional diesel, has one major advantage--it pollutes far less than petroleum.

"Biodiesel is a renewable fuel," said Anne Tazewell of the Triangle J Council of Governments, which backs the effort to expand biodiesel use in North Carolina. "So it benefits not only the agricultural community that's providing the soybean oil for the fuel, it also reduces harmful emissions as compared to diesel. It reduces particulate matter, which is increasingly being linked to lung problems.

"This is a real answer to our air quality problems," she added. "It's a totally biodegradable, non-toxic fuel, so if it's spilled on the ground it doesn't contaminate ground water. It's all around a better choice."

Garner Mayor Sam Bridges and State Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Wake) also spoke at the press conference. Bridges said Garner is already using B20 in 20 of the town's official vehicles with great results. Ross is backing House Bill 806 which would provide a rebate to first-time buyers of "clean-air vehicles," such as those that run on compressed natural gas, propane and electricity.

While getting biodiesel flowing from thousands of the state's fuel pumps won't happen any time soon, the Han-Dee Hugo's gathering shows the undertaking is moving forward. Progress Energy has agreed to serve as an "anchor fleet" by fueling up some of its Garner-based service trucks with B20 from Han-Dee Hugo's. Biodiesel fans say the best hope lies in an effort backed by the state's Grain Growers Cooperative, a farmer's group working to build a soy biodiesel plant in North Carolina.

In the meantime, people like Durham resident Douglas Woolcock, who drove his 1985 Mercedes to Garner to fuel up on biodiesel, are taking matters into their own hands. Woolcock recently started producing biodiesel in his back yard using old fryer grease he gets from local restaurants.

"I need to support this effort," said Woolcock, whose Mercedes has almost 300,000 miles on the odometer.

For Beetle-driver Bibb, the best thing about biodiesel is "they say if you can get 40 miles to the gallon on every car, we can be off of foreign oil. I can be off of foreign oil tomorrow."

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