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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Northeast Biodiesel Will Soon be Operational

Northeast Biodiesel in Greenfield, MA. Photo courtesy of Co-op Power.

Northeast Biodiesel in Greenfield, MA. Photo courtesy of Co-op Power.

By George Harvey

At long last, Co-op Power has raised the money needed to open the Northeast Biodiesel plant in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

They started working on the idea over ten years ago, and have worked hard through many changes of fortune to bring operations to the final stretch. A final fund-raising push, which ended on June 1, raised the last $800,000 needed to complete the $4.2 million project. Most of this came in the form of loans from Co-op Power’s own members.

The new plant will have an initial production of 1.75 million gallons of biodiesel fuel per year. This will increase to 3.76 million in the foreseeable future. The oil will be converted from waste vegetable oil.

In the past, waste vegetable oil was often sent to a landfill, where it decomposed, putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, along with some methane. By converting the waste oil to diesel oil, we eliminate important emissions from the waste stream.

In regard to carbon emissions, however, there are other aspects of biodiesel and conventional diesel oil to consider. These are connected to production. A gallon of either produces about twenty-two pounds of carbon dioxide when it is burned, but the carbon dioxide emitted from the processes of extracting, transporting, and refining a gallon has to be added to get a true picture of the total carbon dioxide emissions.

Operations producing conventional oil can easily produce as much carbon dioxide as the oil itself. If the oil is extracted from tar sands, production emissions can be two and a half times as much. This means that the carbon dioxide overhead of burning a gallon of diesel oil can range from somewhat over forty pounds, for conventionally-sourced oil, to about eighty pounds, for oil from tar sands.

By contrast, the overhead for processing waste vegetable oil is very small, increasing the emissions to considerably less than thirty pounds per gallon. However, if we reduce that amount by the savings to be had in reducing the waste stream emissions, the overhead of biodiesel may be very low indeed, possibly only a quarter to a half of those of ordinary diesel oil. Environmentally, biodiesel is clearly the winner, based on emissions.

By this spring, the plant had already been largely built, and much of the equipment had been brought in. Now, with its fund-raising goal achieved Co-op Power is good to go. Contractors will complete the structures. Final installation of the machinery will be done, the infrastructure will be made ready, deliveries of waste oil will begin, operators will start the chemical process of converting the oil to fuel, and distribution will begin.

Operations should begin this fall. At that point the system of collecting waste oil will be in motion. Restaurants will be providing oil, some in exchange for marketing services or cash payments, though many have said they would simply donate the oil. There will also be drop-off points where anyone can donate oil.

As we consider all this, we should keep in mind is that the environment is not the only beneficiary of the operation. The owners of Co-op Power are nearly all local people and businesses, who benefit from its operations. Additionally, there will be employees of the plant who will get jobs, fifteen in all. Beyond that, a waste-to-fuel operation has very important benefits for everyone in the area where it operates. The cost of dealing with the waste is eliminated, because it is really no longer waste; instead, it has become a valuable chemical feedstock.

More important, the money paid for the fuel is no longer being exported from the area. The effect of this is that perhaps $7 million of the money that used to be sent out of the area each year to pay for fossil fuels will instead be retained in the local economy.

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