Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; published under the title "Biodiesel a better solution than dino-diesel".
Barrie's near-miss with hosting Canada's largest ethanol refinery left us with a deep skepticism of biofuels, oil or gasoline substitutes made from non-fossil sources. Yet they are still pushed as sustainable alternatives, despite accusations of green-washing.
Certainly growing corn through standard industrial agriculture, involving heavy fertilization (from petrochemicals), energy-intensive irrigation and pesticides (yet more petrochemicals), then shipping it great distances only to use still more energy and water to distill it, is no model of sustainability.
But industrial corn-ethanol is just one example of biofuels, at the worst end of the spectrum.
There are exciting discoveries using enzymes to create ethanol from non-food sources, like grass or wood, including leading Canadian company, Iogen.
Plus, there are other, more sustainable biofuels, and we can access one of them right here in Barrie: biodiesel, made from food oils. Biodiesel is made from non-fossil sources -- used deepfryer oil from restaurants, expired margarine or vegetable oil, even rendered animal fat or farm waste.
Last year, my friend Andrew Miller, of Back to Basics Social Developments, brought a biodiesel co-op to Dalston. The supply company produced and supplied oil for restaurant kitchens, then reclaimed the used oil to be processed into biodiesel, which was put back into gas tanks in the community.
Biodiesel can be used in most diesel engines (check with your manufacturer to be sure), or home heating oil furnaces. It's far safer than 'dino-diesel' (made from petroleum), as it is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades in the environment faster than sugar, if it happens to spill.
It is cleaner-burning and even less flammable than regular diesel, which itself is less hazardous than gasoline. It even stores better than regular diesel, and you can blend them together at any ratio, depending on what suits your engine.
There are technologies under development to produce biodiesel from algae, using either waste in sewage ponds or even carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of existing industry, so it could clean up our air or water and provide fuel at the same time.
Andrew has brought his biodiesel co-op to Barrie this year, and I'm thrilled to be a member. Although there is a nominal sign-up fee, it's made up by the fact that you get the biodiesel at five cents below the going rate at the pump.
How often can you do something which is better for the environment at a lower cost, instead of paying a premium?
If you drive a diesel vehicle and are interested in keeping your summer driving prices down while reducing toxins and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, you should contact Andrew about joining his co-op.
Just call 705-716-4006, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and he'll set you up.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.