Cowichan biodiesel fueling the green fire

Cowichan Bio-Diesel Co-op President Brian Roberts introduces the biodiesel process to MLA Bill Routley and Duncan Mayor Phil Kent during the grand opening tour of the biofuels facility at Bings Creek in the summer of 2011. - Andrew Leong/file
Cowichan Bio-Diesel Co-op President Brian Roberts introduces the biodiesel process to MLA Bill Routley and Duncan Mayor Phil Kent during the grand opening tour of the biofuels facility at Bings Creek in the summer of 2011.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

The CVS Victoria Cruise bus company is the first in North America to use 100% biodegradable fuel.

It buys that fuel directly from the Cowichan BioDiesel Co-op. The non-toxic biodegradable renewable gas made from the very canola oil that cooked the food those cruise passengers ate before riding on the bus.

A Victoria-based company called Greasecycle collects cooking oil from restaurants across Vancouver Island, including cruise ships, and brings it to CBC’s Bings Creek facility where it is processed into biodiesel. The bus company isn’t the only customer. In the past few years, CBC’s membership has grown from 20 to 170.

All this new activity has made a big impact on the co-op, according to its president Brian Roberts.

“It’s impressive, especially for a little organization that was selling jugs of biodiesel at the farmers’ market.”

Until recently, co-op administrators were subsidizing the cost of the fuel because it was too expensive to sell otherwise. That model was unsustainable as membership grew but with new processes in place and increased membership, the group is finding financial stability and is even able to pay employees.

“We were a volunteer organization for so long. No one got paid to do this. We used to give out a plaque like a Spirit of the Year award in recognition for their work,” Roberts said. “People are starting to get paid now that the work has gone up exponentially.

“In terms of sustainability and producing a sustainable product, we also need to be able to pay people. Their lives need to be sustainable.”

Roberts explained producing biodiesel in small batches is more expensive than fossil fuels and likens it to the organic food industry. Some people choose to buy organic food, even though the price is higher because they believe there are health and environmental benefits. Roberts said the same applies to biofuel.

“Farmers are already doing things without pesticides, which is a more expensive practice. You can think of our fuel in the same way. It’s the organic food of the fossil fuel industry. It costs more to make because it’s made by a small local business, not a huge mega-corporation that can pump it out millions of litres each month. Like organic food, some people get it; some are all about the bottom line.”

Another factor that drives up the price is nearly 40% in taxes, including carbon tax on the carbon-neutral fuel.

The costs haven’t deterred its membership, which continues to grow and is supported by local government. Roberts is doubtful the biodiesel project would have been as successful in another community.

“There is a great progressive community in the Cowichan Valley for something like this to happen. From local government and the businesses in the community who support us. CVRD and Duncan have been amazing. They host our biodiesel facility at Bings Creek. They can run all their vehicles from up there. They are using biofuel but not from us, but we’re working on that.”

Roberts said councillors at North Cowichan know about the biodiesel facility and product, but he is uncertain if they will be on board.

“I’m not sure which way North Cowichan will go. They have a great climate action committee there but there are other people who don’t get it. We haven’t progressed as far with North Cowichan.”

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