When you think of a vehicle using biodiesel, the stereotype might come with a "Keep Portland Weird" bumper sticker.
But Carson Oil aims to expand that vision to include mudflaps with lissome silhouettes on the green-burning machine.
The oil company, nestled in Portland's gritty Northwest industrial area, is making big gains in getting Oregon's commercial haulers to start using biodiesel in their trucks.
Among the more recent converts: the Port of Vancouver, which is switching its heavy trucks over to Carson's B20—meaning a diesel blend containing 20 percent soybean-based fuel—and Les Schwab Tire Co., which has committed to buying between 800,000 and 1 million gallons a year.
Carson's alternative-fuels manager, Jeff Rouse, says the company is also negotiating with an unidentified major grocery distributor that would use more than 100,000 gallons a month of the B20.
A previous stumbling block to such big biodiesel deals has been providing fuel in sufficient quantity for industrial customers.
But by the end of 2008, Carson hopes to have the capacity to bring in up to 15 million gallons a year (or 41,000 gallons a day) of biodiesel for blending and redistribution.
That would be about 20 percent of all the bio-d produced last year in the U.S., according to the National Biodiesel Board. Yet that would also fill Oregon's 2 million-gallon-a-day diesel habit for only about a week, says Tyson Keever, of SeQuential-Pacific Biofuels, which became Oregon's first bio-d producer when it opened a million-gallon-a-year facility in Salem last year.
Keever says more biodiesel competition is OK with him, because consumers need choices in their energy consumption.
"If there's any competition, it's with petroleum," Keever says.
Biodiesel has environmental advantages over petroleum diesel because it burns more cleanly, creating less carbon monoxide and putting fewer particulates into the air. Unblended, it also essentially eliminates the type of pollution that contributes to acid rain. Its major disadvantage is that it does not perform as well in cold weather and storage tanks must be heated.
"It meets the Port's mission to be environmentally conscious as well as reducing our dependence on foreign oil," says Port of Vancouver spokeswoman Sue Groth. "The big challenge was finding a consistent supply, which we were able to do with Carson."
Rouse estimated Carson will sell as much as 1.2 million gallons this year, which he says is about double the biodiesel sold locally in 2005.
SeQuential-Pacific uses mainly recycled cooking oil and Northwest-grown canola, while Carson imports bio-d from Iowa's West Central Cooperative.
While the goal is to keep money in local and regional economies, SeQuential's Keever says that even Carson getting bio-d from the Midwest is better than relying on overseas imports.
The overall long-term vision, Rouse says, is to have a West Central production facility in the Northwest that will produce about 60 million gallons per year of biodiesel composed of a base stock of soybean and Northwest-grown canola oil.