One of Willamette Valley Vineyards' Sprinters that runs on biodiesel fuel.
For Jim Bernau, it’s important for his business to be environmentally conscious. By operating a biodiesel fleet, his vehicles — and trackers — run on recycled cooking oil.
“It’s using a waste product again for a useful purpose,” says Bernau, owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards. “You are reducing your reliance on fossil fuel.”
Located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Bernau farms on 500 acres and has three winery locations. For 25 years, Bernau ran a wine distribution operation with a fleet of vans and trucks. After selling the distribution company a few years ago, his fleet of Sprinter vans has been reduced from eight to four. Currently, the biodiesel-running Sprinters haul wine between the company’s three different tasting rooms.
Bernau even encourages his employees to switch their personal vehicles to biodiesel. Every month, he offers each employee up to 50 gallons of biodiesel for their daily commute.
“My employees are essentially part of the marketing program promoting biodiesel,” says Bernau. “They have the materials about the benefits of biodiesel and put a sticker on the back of their cars.”
Produced from renewable sources, biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative fuel that contains no petroleum. According to the National Biodiesel Board, it’s created through a refinery process called transesterification using a fat or oil.
Biodiesel is available in various percentage blends, from B10 (10% biodiesel and 90% diesel) to B20, B99 and B100 (100% biodiesel).
“Biodiesel is cleaner burning, cuts carbon significantly and is made in the U.S.,” says Jessica Robinson, director of communications at the National Biodiesel Board. “Fleets from coast to coast have turned to biodiesel as an affordable option to seamlessly convert a diesel fleet to a renewable, low carbon fuel.”
A benefit to biodiesel is the ability to switch fuels withou making any engine modifications. However, regular use is dependent on its availability in fleets' areas.
In 2004, Pacific Biodiesel opened a biodiesel production plant in Salem, only a few miles from Bernau’s vineyards. According to Bernau, the plant’s main source of biodiesel comes from the used cooking oil at Kettle Chips headquarters in Salem. Additionally, the biodiesel plant goes around to local restaurants to pick up used cooking oil.
“Our biodiesel is delivered by our local fuel distributor whenever we need it,” says Bernau.
Years ago when he didn’t have a local distributor, Bernau attempted to make his own biofuel in the barn, using cooking oil from the Kettle Chips plant. “It was messy and not very efficient.”
At SeQuential Biofuels station #1, a biofuel retail pump located near Bernau’s winery, biodiesel B99 currently costs $2.29 per gallon, biodiesel B20 costs $2.10 per gallon and regular diesel is priced at $2.19 per gallon. The price for biodiesel has dropped about 30 cents per gallon since October.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy's report on the average price of alternative fuels nationwide from Oct. 1, 2015 to Oct 15, 2015, biodiesel B20 was $2.42 per gallon, regular diesel was $2.33 per gallon and biodiesel B99-B100 was priced at $3.36 per gallon.
"The price of biodiesel varies depending on how fleets draft their RFPs and purchase the fuel," says Robinson. "Biodiesel is slightly more expensive than diesel to produce, but by the time it reaches the consumer, that cost difference is almost always offset by a $1 per gallon tax incentive and the price of a RIN credit (the renewable identification number used to track alternative fuel blended into the supply stream and required by the Renewable Fuel Standard)."
Willamette Valley Vineyards' estate vineyard.