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Sales show biodiesel co-op is ‘sustainable’

http://www.orangeville.com/news/article/60362

It’s a good start, but there’s a long way to go. That’s what organizers of a local biodiesel co-op say of their first foray into the market.

Everpure members bought 16,000 litres of the 100 per cent biodiesel — known in the industry as B100 — over a four-month period ending in late October. The fuel was manufactured by a company in the Owen Sound area and sold locally to test the market and generate buzz for the renewable fuel.

If enough interest grows, Everpure hopes to start making its own biodiesel in 2010, using locally grown oil seed crops and creating a loop that keeps those very same crops in the food chain.

“It’s like any other business, you have to start small,” Jay Mowat, chair of the co-op board, says of the sales project. “We proved that we’re sustainable. We can go on from year to year to make it happen.”

Everpure started as a collaborative effort of Everdale Organic Farm in the Town of Erin and Dufferin’s Power Up Renewable Energy (PURE), but is now an entity of its own.

Biodiesel produces a mere fraction of the pollutants put into the air by traditional petroleum products.

Local sales started in early July, running two days per week out of a trailer behind Jay’s Automotive on the south end of Hillsburgh. On average, each week saw sales of about 1,000 litres.

“I had sort of hoped to do a little more,” acknowledges Mowat.

Fellow board member Richard Proctor, president of PURE, says sales were “not exactly stunning, but we have a solid base of supporters.

“This is what we’ll build from. This was our first attempt, to see how it would go,” he adds. “I didn’t expect huge uptake by the community just yet — obviously we’ll have to gain some momentum.”

The co-op is looking to add more sales locations next summer — possibly in Orangeville, Guelph, Arthur, Georgetown and Acton.

Last week, Orangeville council agreed to discuss the possibility of finding a sales spot in town for Everpure’s truck, but no commitment has been made. Similarly, council agreed to investigate whether B100 can be used in lawn mowing equipment that is off warrantee.

Currently, the co-op has about 55 members, but Mowat considers only half of those to be active. He believes the rest joined to show support for the project.

“I think we need 200 members,” Mowat says of Everpure’s long-term goal. With that many members, he figures sales would average about 40,000 litres per month. “Which I think is possible to do.”

Two hundred active members would generate enough business to pay for a full-time employee to run the pumps and handle other aspects of the operation, Mowat adds.

In order to get to that level, or at least head in that direction, the co-op plans to undertake a couple of key steps this winter. Firstly, it will launch an aggressive membership drive and host public meetings in various area communities to generate interest.

There are also efforts underway to close the co-op loop and bring local restaurants into the fold.

Once fully implemented, Everdale envisions the loop working like this: member farmers produce vegetable oil crops and sell them to the co-op, the oil is then rented to local restaurants for use in cooking, before it’s reprocessed into 100 per cent biodiesel, which is then sent back to the farmers for use in their equipment.

Meal from the oil crops will be used as livestock feed; restaurants traditionally dispose of cooking oil without an additional use.

“The whole community benefits and none of the money goes out of the economy locally — that’s the key factor here. It’s a local economy initiative,” notes Proctor. “The [economic] spin-offs are enormous.”

During the sales project, Everdale sold biodiesel at two cents less than traditional diesel pump prices in the area. That in itself proved to be quite a learning experience.

At one point fossil diesel fuel cost two cents per litre less than the co-op’s purchase price and Everdale decided to sell at a loss.

“It didn’t hurt us that much — we’re not like the oil companies where they can deal with the fluctuations,” Mowat says, noting the co-op may have lost about $200 as a result.

“We’re in the black. We’re fine,” he adds of the project as a whole. Membership fees and sales profits from the rest of the endeavour more than covered that loss, he says. “We have no debt.”