- Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
A Morrisville energy company means to help Vermont wean itself from foreign-oil dependence with a new biofuel blending facility that mixes recycled cooking grease with home heating oil and diesel fuel. The injection-blending plant — the first of its kind in central Vermont — enables homeowners and businesses to reduce their carbon footprint with no added expense or investment in new equipment.
Peter Bourne is president of Bourne’s Energy of Morrisville, which opened the biofuel facility and vehicle fueling station last month on Route 100. A third-generation fuel dealer, Bourne says he invested in the biofuel facility both for its ecological and economic benefits.
“We know the environment is changing, so doing this is just the right thing to do,” says Bourne, 57. “It’s also a good product, and frankly, it separates us from our competition.”
Bourne’s grandfather started the business as a family-owned gas station in 1947, before expanding into home heating oil in the early 1970s. But with furnaces becoming more efficient and more people heating with natural gas, sales were dropping off. So Bourne had to adapt to stay competitive.
“We’re in a dinosaur business,” says Bourne. “We needed to specialize ourselves in the market and have the products our customers want.”
Travelers heading north on Route 100 just south of downtown Morrisville can easily spot the new facility: a tall, brown building with big, green, leafy-looking feet on its wall and a sign that reads, “biodiesel — Reducing your carbon footprint.”
Inside is a 10,000 gallon fuel tank of B100, or 100 percent recycled cooking oil, sourced from White Mountain Biodiesel of North Haverhill, N.H. White Mountain Biodiesel buys used cooking oil from restaurants throughout New England — including Vermont — for $1 per gallon, then sells it to companies like Bourne’s Energy.
At Bourne’s Morrisville facility, the tank and fuel lines must be kept warm, Bourne explains, to prevent the fryer oil from “turning to butter” before it can be blended into various grades of biodiesel. Customers and delivery truck drivers use a touch-screen computer to dial in their desired grade.
B5, or 5 percent biofuel, is typically used to power furnaces in homes and businesses. B99, or 99 percent biofuel, can be used to run off-road diesel engines such as tractors and generators. Intermediate grades, such as B10 and B20, are suitable for fleet vehicles, such as buses, commercial trucks and off-road agricultural equipment. All biofuel blends burn at least as efficiently as straight diesel and home heating oil products. But importantly, they burn cleaner — producing 20 to 60 percent fewer greenhouse gases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bourne’s customers now include the Sugarbush Resort in Warren, which uses biodiesel to power all the snowcats that groom its slopes, and the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which uses biodiesel to run its snowmaking system.
Karl Hammer owns the Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, which powers nearly all of its production equipment, including excavators, tractors and front-end loaders, with B100 biodiesel supplied by Bourne’s. Hammer says he uses the highest bio-blend available for his off-road vehicles for three reasons: to protect the health and safety of his workers, to prevent petro-diesel fumes and aerosols from contaminating his organic compost, and to reduce his carbon footprint.
“We also get some minor financial savings, which is gravy,” adds Hammer, noting that the price of B100 is now slightly below than that of conventional diesel.
Hammer’s experiences with other biodiesel suppliers is indicative of the problems that have slowed the product’s acceptance in Vermont. In the past, Hammer says, he dealt with a biodiesel firm in Winooski whose fuel gunked up his engines and cost him thousands of dollars in repairs, replacement fuel filters and lost production time.
Another supplier, the Biocardel Vermont biodiesel plant in Swanton, began producing soybean-derived fuels in 2006, thanks in part to $645,000 in low-interest loans from the Vermont Economic Development Authority. But Biocardel went out of business in 2010 after a federal biodiesel tax credit expired at the end of 2009.
For his part, Bourne won’t reveal what he pays for the feedstock of grease, nor the number of customers he has, saying that information is proprietary. Nor will he say what the new facility cost, except that it was “a chunk of change.” Bourne’s Energy received a $45,000 grant from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund to help pay for it. “That was a big help,” he adds. “We wouldn’t have done it without that.”
The company, which has more than 60 employees at five locations, expects to pump more than 100,000 gallons of blended fuel each year. Currently, all customers who buy home heating oil from Bourne’s Morrisville office are getting biofuel delivered to them, whether they know it or not.
Liz Miller is commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service. She says that from the standpoint of Vermont’s long-term energy plan, Bourne’s biofuel plant is hitting “two of the biggest nuts to crack:” home heating and transportation, both of which are almost entirely reliant on fossil fuels. Currently, between 60 and 70 percent of all Vermont homes are heated with oil.
The Vermont Energy Act of 2011 created a new standard that mandates ultra-low-sulfur heating oil. The law requires all heating oil sold in Vermont to have a sulfur content of 500 parts per million (ppm) in 2014 and 15 parts per million in 2018. The law also requires heating oil to be blended with biodiesel once the surrounding states of New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts adopt substantially similar standards. Most Chittenden County oil dealers are already delivering 15 PPM heating oil, according to the Energy Co-Op of Vermont. Miller says Bourne’s facility moves Vermont another step toward its goal of using 90 percent renewable energy sources by 2050.
“Having a bioheat product that is nearly seamless to the customer with no difference in the cost is just a great step in the right direction,” Miller says. “And it’s more local than Saudi Arabia.”
Not all biodiesel produced in Vermont comes from recycled cooking grease, Miller notes. According to data from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, at least eight Vermont farms are growing oilseeds for fuel — and feed — and have the equipment to press and process them. On-farm biodiesel production capacity jumped from 271,000 gallons per year in 2010 to over 604,000 in 2011.
Currently, the Morrisville roadside fuel pump isn’t opened to retail customers who drive diesel vehicles, except for those who have contracts with Bourne’s. But Bourne says he’ll eventually replace the current pump with one that allows customers to dial in their desired biodiesel blend, then pay with a credit card the way they do at any other fueling station.