Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fields of Fuel

At the base of the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah is a 5000 acre environmental meeting ground for “world leaders, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Academy Award-winning actors and directors, innovative scientists and accomplished corporate leaders.” It's called The Sundance Preserve. This year, Robert Redford decided to open his film festival there, with a screening of Josh Tickell’s biodiesel documentary Fields of Fuel, which received standing ovations and went on to win the Audience Award. The film will go on the road starting in New York City, and will follow the presidential campaign nationwide, in an attempt to "make green energy the #1 issue in the 2008 presidential elections."

Josh first discovered biodiesel in 1996, while studying abroad on an organic farm in East Germany. He applied what he learned there to his chemistry and engineering education, designing a portable machine that made fuel out of used cooking oil. He then toured the country for two years, towing his "Green Grease Machine" behind his Veggie Van, an unmodified, diesel engine Winnebago fueled by used fryer grease from fast food restaurants. He has written two books, and in 2005, Bill Clinton selected him to be part of his Global Initiative on Climate Change, helping to finance his biodiesel powered "relief ships" that provided much-needed food and supplies to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Fields of Fuel is his latest effort to mobilize Americans to ditch their foreign oil dependence for a more sustainable fuel future.

Biofuels have gotten a lot of bad press lately, so Josh is eager to explain that biodiesel is not corn ethanol. Unlike ethanol, which gets both its food and its fuel from the starch of the corn kernel, biodiesel can be made from over 1,100 species of oilseed crops, including soybeans, where the food comes from the protein, and the fuel from the oil. This eliminates competition between food and fuel needs, a huge drawback to ethanol production. And there is even a company in Massachusetts, GreenFuel, that uses algae as both a source for biodiesel, and a way to capture carbon emissions from power plants!

Biodiesel also has other advantages. It significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions, and can be used to replace sulfur, a lubricating agent in standard diesel fuel that produces sulfur dioxide, the major component in acid rain. In addition to its environmental benefits, the American Lung Association hosted a forum recently that focused on biodiesel's lower toxic compound emissions and particulate pollution.

These benefits to public health are significant even in the 5-20% mixtures that currently dominate the market, but 100% biodiesel is the future Josh is shooting for, so until Fields of Fuel is released in our area, check out his website,

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